The Marching Morons

by C. M. Kornbluth

Tags: Science Fiction, Novel-Classic,

Desc: Science Fiction Story: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man, of course, is king. But how about a live wire, a smart businessman, in a civilization of 100% pure chumps?

Some things had not changed. A potter’s wheel was still a potter’s wheel and clay was still clay. Efim Hawkins had built his shop near Goose Lake, which had a narrow band of good fat clay and a narrow beach of white sand. He fired three bottle-nosed kilns with willow charcoal from the wood lot. The wood lot was also useful for long walks while the kilns were cooling; if he let himself stay within sight of them, he would open them prematurely, impatient to see how some new shape or glaze had come through the fire, and--ping!--the new shape or glaze would be good for nothing but the shard pile back of his slip tanks.

A business conference was in full swing in his shop, a modest cube of brick, tile-roofed, as the Chicago-Los Angeles “rocket” thundered overhead--very noisy, very swept-back, very fiery jets, shaped as sleekly swift-looking as an airborne barracuda.

The buyer from Marshall Fields was turning over a black-glazed one liter carafe, nodding approval with his massive, handsome head. “This is real pretty,” he told Hawkins and his own secretary, Gomez-Laplace. “This has got lots of what ya call real est’etic principles. Yeah, it is real pretty.”

“How much?” the secretary asked the potter.

“Seven-fifty each in dozen lots,” said Hawkins. “I ran up fifteen dozen last month.”

“They are real est’etic,” repeated the buyer from Fields. “I will take them all.”

“I don’t think we can do that, doctor,” said the secretary. “They’d cost us $1,350. That would leave only $532 in our quarter’s budget. And we still have to run down to East Liverpool to pick up some cheap dinner sets.”

“Dinner sets?” asked the buyer, his big face full of wonder.

“Dinner sets. The department’s been out of them for two months now. Mr. Garvy-Seabright got pretty nasty about it yesterday. Remember?”

“Garvy-Seabright, that meat-headed bluenose,” the buyer said contemptuously. “He don’t know nothin’ about est’etics. Why for don’t he lemme run my own department?” His eye fell on a stray copy of Whambozambo Comix and he sat down with it. An occasional deep chuckle or grunt of surprise escaped him as he turned the pages.

Uninterrupted, the potter and the buyer’s secretary quickly closed a deal for two dozen of the liter carafes. “I wish we could take more,” said the secretary, “but you heard what I told him. We’ve had to turn away customers for ordinary dinnerware because he shot the last quarter’s budget on some Mexican piggy banks some equally enthusiastic importer stuck him with. The fifth floor is packed solid with them.”

“I’ll bet they look mighty est’etic.”

“They’re painted with purple cacti.”


The potter shuddered and caressed the glaze of the sample carafe.

The buyer looked up and rumbled, “Ain’t you dummies through yakkin’ yet? What good’s a seckertary for if’n he don’t take the burden of de-tail off’n my back, harh?”

“We’re all through, doctor. Are you ready to go?”

The buyer grunted peevishly, dropped Whambozambo Comix on the floor and led the way out of the building and down the log corduroy road to the highway. His car was waiting on the concrete. It was, like all contemporary cars, too low-slung to get over the logs. He climbed down into the car and started the motor with a tremendous sparkle and roar.

“Gomez-Laplace,” called out the potter under cover of the noise, “did anything come of the radiation program they were working on the last time I was on duty at the Pole?”

“The same old fallacy,” said the secretary gloomily. “It stopped us on mutation, it stopped us on culling, it stopped us on segregation, and now it’s stopped us on hypnosis.”

“Well, I’m scheduled back to the grind in nine days. Time for another firing right now. I’ve got a new luster to try...”

“I’ll miss you. I shall be ‘vacationing’--running the drafting room of the New Century Engineering Corporation in Denver. They’re going to put up a two hundred-story office building, and naturally somebody’s got to be on hand.”

“Naturally,” said Hawkins with a sour smile.

There was an ear-piercingly sweet blast as the buyer leaned on the horn button. Also, a yard-tall jet of what looked like flame spurted up from the car’s radiator cap; the car’s power plant was a gas turbine, and had no radiator.

“I’m coming, doctor,” said the secretary dispiritedly. He climbed down into the car and it whooshed off with much flame and noise.

The potter, depressed, wandered back up the corduroy road and contemplated his cooling kilns. The rustling wind in the boughs was obscuring the creak and mutter of the shrinking refractory brick. Hawkins wondered about the number two kiln--a reduction fire on a load of lusterware mugs. Had the clay chinking excluded the air? Had it been a properly smoky blaze? Would it do any harm if he just took one close--?


Common sense took Hawkins by the scruff of the neck and yanked him over to the tool shed. He got out his pick and resolutely set off on a prospecting jaunt to a hummocky field that might yield some oxides. He was especially low on coppers.

The long walk left him sweating hard, with his lust for a peek into the kiln quiet in his breast. He swung his pick almost at random into one of the hummocks; it clanged on a stone which he excavated. A largely obliterated inscription said:

ERSITY OF CHIC

OGICAL LABO

ELOVED MEMORY OF

KILLED IN ACT

The potter swore mildly. He had hoped the field would turn out to be a cemetery, preferably a once-fashionable cemetery full of once-massive bronze caskets moldered into oxides of tin and copper.


Well, hell, maybe there was some around anyway.

He headed lackadaisically for the second largest hillock and sliced into it with his pick. There was a stone to undercut and topple into a trench, and then the potter was very glad he’d stuck at it. His nostrils were filled with the bitter smell and the dirt was tinged with the exciting blue of copper salts. The pick went clang!

Hawkins, puffing, pried up a stainless steel plate that was quite badly stained and was also marked with incised letters. It seemed to have pulled loose from rotting bronze; there were rivets on the back that brought up flakes of green patina. The potter wiped off the surface dirt with his sleeve, turned it to catch the sunlight obliquely and read:

“HONEST JOHN BARLOW

“Honest John,” famed in university annals, represents a challenge

which medical science has not yet answered: revival of a human being

accidentally thrown into a state of suspended animation.

In 1988 Mr. Barlow, a leading Evanston real estate dealer, visited

his dentist for treatment of an impacted wisdom tooth. His dentist

requested and received permission to use the experimental anesthetic

Cycloparadimethanol-B-7, developed at the University.

After administration of the anesthetic, the dentist resorted to his

drill. By freakish mischance, a short circuit in his machine

delivered 220 volts of 60-cycle current into the patient. (In a

damage suit instituted by Mrs. Barlow against the dentist, the

University and the makers of the drill, a jury found for the

defendants.) Mr. Barlow never got up from the dentist’s chair and

was assumed to have died of poisoning, electrocution or both.

Morticians preparing him for embalming discovered, however, that

their subject was--though certainly not living--just as certainly

not dead. The University was notified and a series of exhaustive

tests was begun, including attempts to duplicate the trance state

on volunteers. After a bad run of seven cases which ended fatally,

the attempts were abandoned.

Honest John was long an exhibit at the University museum, and

livened many a football game as mascot of the University’s Blue

Crushers. The bounds of taste were overstepped, however, when a

pledge to Sigma Delta Chi was ordered in ‘03 to “kidnap” Honest

John from his loosely guarded glass museum case and introduce him

into the Rachel Swanson Memorial Girls’ Gymnasium shower room.

On May 22nd, 2003, the University Board of Regents issued the

following order: “By unanimous vote, it is directed that the remains

of Honest John Barlow be removed from the University museum and

conveyed to the University’s Lieutenant James Scott III Memorial

Biological Laboratories and there be securely locked in a specially

prepared vault. It is further directed that all possible measures

for the preservation of these remains be taken by the Laboratory

administration and that access to these remains be denied to all

persons except qualified scholars authorized in writing by the

Board. The Board reluctantly takes this action in view of recent

notices and photographs in the nation’s press which, to say the

least, reflect but small credit upon the University.”


It was far from his field, but Hawkins understood what had happened--an early and accidental blundering onto the bare bones of the Levantman shock anesthesia, which had since been replaced by other methods. To bring subjects out of Levantman shock, you let them have a squirt of simple saline in the trigeminal nerve. Interesting. And now about that bronze--

He heaved the pick into the rotting green salts, expecting no resistence and almost fractured his wrist. Something down there was solid. He began to flake off the oxides.

A half hour of work brought him down to phosphor bronze, a huge casting of the almost incorruptible metal. It had weakened structurally over the centuries; he could fit the point of his pick under a corroded boss and pry off great creaking and grumbling striae of the stuff.

Hawkins wished he had an archeologist with him, but didn’t dream of returning to his shop and calling one to take over the find. He was an all-around man: by choice and in his free time, an artist in clay and glaze; by necessity, an automotive, electronics and atomic engineer who could also swing a project in traffic control, individual and group psychology, architecture or tool design. He didn’t yell for a specialist every time something out of his line came up; there were so few with so much to do...

He trenched around his find, discovering that it was a great brick-shaped bronze mass with an excitingly hollow sound. A long strip of moldering metal from one of the long vertical faces pulled away, exposing red rust that went whoosh and was sucked into the interior of the mass.

It had been de-aired, thought Hawkins, and there must have been an inner jacket of glass which had crystalized through the centuries and quietly crumbled at the first clang of his pick. He didn’t know what a vacuum would do to a subject of Levantman shock, but he had hopes, nor did he quite understand what a real estate dealer was, but it might have something to do with pottery. And anything might have a bearing on Topic Number One.


He flung his pick out of the trench, climbed out and set off at a dog-trot for his shop. A little rummaging turned up a hypo and there was a plasticontainer of salt in the kitchen.

Back at his dig, he chipped for another half hour to expose the juncture of lid and body. The hinges were hopeless; he smashed them off.

Hawkins extended the telescopic handle of the pick for the best leverage, fitted its point into a deep pit, set its built-in fulcrum, and heaved. Five more heaves and he could see, inside the vault, what looked like a dusty marble statue. Ten more and he could see that it was the naked body of Honest John Barlow, Evanston real estate dealer, uncorrupted by time.

The potter found the apex of the trigeminal nerve with his needle’s point and gave him 60 cc.

In an hour Barlow’s chest began to pump.

In another hour, he rasped, “Did it work?”

Did it!” muttered Hawkins.

Barlow opened his eyes and stirred, looked down, turned his hands before his eyes--

“I’ll sue!” he screamed. “My clothes! My fingernails!” A horrid suspicion came over his face and he clapped his hands to his hairless scalp. “My hair!” he wailed. “I’ll sue you for every penny you’ve got! That release won’t mean a damned thing in court--I didn’t sign away my hair and clothes and fingernails!”

“They’ll grow back,” said Hawkins casually. “Also your epidermis. Those parts of you weren’t alive, you know, so they weren’t preserved like the rest of you. I’m afraid the clothes are gone, though.”

“What is this--the University hospital?” demanded Barlow. “I want a phone. No, you phone. Tell my wife I’m all right and tell Sam Immerman--he’s my lawyer--to get over here right away. Greenleaf 7-4022. Ow!” He had tried to sit up, and a portion of his pink skin rubbed against the inner surface of the casket, which was powdered by the ancient crystalized glass. “What the hell did you guys do, boil me alive? Oh, you’re going to pay for this!”

“You’re all right,” said Hawkins, wishing now he had a reference book to clear up several obscure terms. “Your epidermis will start growing immediately. You’re not in the hospital. Look here.”


He handed Barlow the stainless steel plate that had labeled the casket. After a suspicious glance, the man started to read. Finishing, he laid the plate carefully on the edge of the vault and was silent for a spell.

“Poor Verna,” he said at last. “It doesn’t say whether she was stuck with the court costs. Do you happen to know--”

“No,” said the potter. “All I know is what was on the plate, and how to revive you. The dentist accidentally gave you a dose of what we call Levantman shock anesthesia. We haven’t used it for centuries; it was powerful, but too dangerous.”

“Centuries...” brooded the man. “Centuries ... I’ll bet Sam swindled her out of her eyeteeth. Poor Verna. How long ago was it? What year is this?”

Hawkins shrugged. “We call it 7-B-936. That’s no help to you. It takes a long time for these metals to oxidize.”

“Like that movie,” Barlow muttered. “Who would have thought it? Poor Verna!” He blubbered and sniffled, reminding Hawkins powerfully of the fact that he had been found under a flat rock.

Almost angrily, the potter demanded, “How many children did you have?”

“None yet,” sniffed Barlow. “My first wife didn’t want them. But Verna wants one--wanted one--but we’re going to wait until--we were going to wait until--”

“Of course,” said the potter, feeling a savage desire to tell him off, blast him to hell and gone for his work. But he choked it down. There was The Problem to think of; there was always The Problem to think of, and this poor blubberer might unexpectedly supply a clue. Hawkins would have to pass him on.


“Come along,” Hawkins said. “My time is short.”

Barlow looked up, outraged. “How can you be so unfeeling? I’m a human being like--”

The Los Angeles-Chicago “rocket” thundered overhead and Barlow broke off in mid-complaint. “Beautiful!” he breathed, following it with his eyes. “Beautiful!”

He climbed out of the vault, too interested to be pained by its roughness against his infantile skin. “After all,” he said briskly, “this should have its sunny side. I never was much for reading, but this is just like one of those stories. And I ought to make some money out of it, shouldn’t I?” He gave Hawkins a shrewd glance.

“You want money?” asked the potter. “Here.” He handed over a fistful of change and bills. “You’d better put my shoes on. It’ll be about a quarter-mile. Oh, and you’re--uh, modest?--yes, that was the word. Here.” Hawkins gave him his pants, but Barlow was excitedly counting the money.

“Eighty-five, eighty-six--and it’s dollars, too! I thought it’d be credits or whatever they call them. ‘E Pluribus Unum’ and ‘Liberty’--just different faces. Say, is there a catch to this? Are these real, genuine, honest twenty-two-cent dollars like we had or just wallpaper?”

“They’re quite all right, I assure you,” said the potter. “I wish you’d come along. I’m in a hurry.”


The man babbled as they stumped toward the shop. “Where are we going--The Council of Scientists, the World Coordinator or something like that?”

“Who? Oh, no. We call them ‘President’ and ‘Congress.’ No, that wouldn’t do any good at all. I’m just taking you to see some people.”

“I ought to make plenty out of this. Plenty! I could write books. Get some smart young fellow to put it into words for me and I’ll bet I could turn out a best-seller. What’s the setup on things like that?”

“It’s about like that. Smart young fellows. But there aren’t any best-sellers any more. People don’t read much nowadays. We’ll find something equally profitable for you to do.”

Back in the shop, Hawkins gave Barlow a suit of clothes, deposited him in the waiting room and called Central in Chicago. “Take him away,” he pleaded. “I have time for one more firing and he blathers and blathers. I haven’t told him anything. Perhaps we should just turn him loose and let him find his own level, but there’s a chance--”

“The Problem,” agreed Central. “Yes, there’s a chance.”

The potter delighted Barlow by making him a cup of coffee with a cube that not only dissolved in cold water but heated the water to boiling point. Killing time, Hawkins chatted about the “rocket” Barlow had admired, and had to haul himself up short; he had almost told the real estate man what its top speed really was--almost, indeed, revealed that it was not a rocket.

He regretted, too, that he had so casually handed Barlow a couple of hundred dollars. The man seemed obsessed with fear that they were worthless since Hawkins refused to take a note or I.O.U. or even a definite promise of repayment. But Hawkins couldn’t go into details, and was very glad when a stranger arrived from Central.

“Tinny-Peete, from Algeciras,” the stranger told him swiftly as the two of them met at the door. “Psychist for Poprob. Polasigned special overtake Barlow.”

“Thank Heaven,” said Hawkins. “Barlow,” he told the man from the past, “this is Tinny-Peete. He’s going to take care of you and help you make lots of money.”

The psychist stayed for a cup of the coffee whose preparation had delighted Barlow, and then conducted the real estate man down the corduroy road to his car, leaving the potter to speculate on whether he could at last crack his kilns.

Hawkins, abruptly dismissing Barlow and the Problem, happily picked the chinking from around the door of the number two kiln, prying it open a trifle. A blast of heat and the heady, smoky scent of the reduction fire delighted him. He peered and saw a corner of a shelf glowing cherry-red, becoming obscured by wavering black areas as it lost heat through the opened door. He slipped a charred wood paddle under a mug on the shelf and pulled it out as a sample, the hairs on the back of his hand curling and scorching. The mug crackled and pinged and Hawkins sighed happily.

The bismuth resinate luster had fired to perfection, a haunting film of silvery-black metal with strange bluish lights in it as it turned before the eyes, and the Problem of Population seemed very far away to Hawkins then.


Barlow and Tinny-Peete arrived at the concrete highway where the psychist’s car was parked in a safety bay.

“What--a--boat!” gasped the man from the past.

“Boat? No, that’s my car.”

Barlow surveyed it with awe. Swept-back lines, deep-drawn compound curves, kilograms of chrome. He ran his hands futilely over the door--or was it the door?--in a futile search for a handle, and asked respectfully, “How fast does it go?”

The psychist gave him a keen look and said slowly, “Two hundred and fifty. You can tell by the speedometer.”

“Wow! My old Chevvy could hit a hundred on a straightaway, but you’re out of my class, mister!”

Tinny-Peete somehow got a huge, low door open and Barlow descended three steps into immense cushions, floundering over to the right. He was too fascinated to pay serious attention to his flayed dermis. The dashboard was a lovely wilderness of dials, plugs, indicators, lights, scales and switches.

The psychist climbed down into the driver’s seat and did something with his feet. The motor started like lighting a blowtorch as big as a silo. Wallowing around in the cushions, Barlow saw through a rear-view mirror a tremendous exhaust filled with brilliant white sparkles.

“Do you like it?” yelled the psychist.

“It’s terrific!” Barlow yelled back. “It’s--”

He was shut up as the car pulled out from the bay into the road with a great voo-ooo-ooom! A gale roared past Barlow’s head, though the windows seemed to be closed; the impression of speed was terrific. He located the speedometer on the dashboard and saw it climb past 90, 100, 150, 200.

“Fast enough for me,” yelled the psychist, noting that Barlow’s face fell in response. “Radio?”

He passed over a surprisingly light object like a football helmet, with no trailing wires, and pointed to a row of buttons. Barlow put on the helmet, glad to have the roar of air stilled, and pushed a pushbutton. It lit up satisfyingly and Barlow settled back even farther for a sample of the brave new world’s super-modern taste in ingenious entertainment.

“TAKE IT AND STICK IT!” a voice roared in his ears.


He snatched off the helmet and gave the psychist an injured look. Tinny-Peete grinned and turned a dial associated with the pushbutton layout. The man from the past donned the helmet again and found the voice had lowered to normal.

“The show of shows! The super-show! The super-duper show! The quiz of quizzes! Take it and stick it!

There were shrieks of laughter in the background.

“Here we got the contes-tants all ready to go. You know how we work it. I hand a contes-tant a triangle-shaped cut-out and like that down the line. Now we got these here boards, they got cut-out places the same shape as the triangles and things, only they’re all different shapes, and the first contes-tant that sticks the cutouts into the board, he wins.

“Now I’m gonna innaview the first contes-tant. Right here, honey. What’s your name?”

“Name? Uh--”

“Hoddaya like that, folks? She don’t remember her name! Hah? _Would you buy that for a quarter?_” The question was spoken with arch significance, and the audience shrieked, howled and whistled its appreciation.

It was dull listening when you didn’t know the punch lines and catch lines. Barlow pushed another button, with his free hand ready at the volume control.

“--latest from Washington. It’s about Senator Hull-Mendoza. He is still attacking the Bureau of Fisheries. The North California Syndicalist says he got affidavits that John Kingsley-Schultz is a bluenose from way back. He didn’t publistat the affydavits, but he says they say that Kingsley-Schultz was saw at bluenose meetings in Oregon State College and later at Florida University. Kingsley-Schultz says he gotta confess he did major in fly-casting at Oregon and got his Ph.D. in game-fish at Florida.

“And here is a quote from Kingsley-Schultz: ‘Hull-Mendoza don’t know what he’s talking about. He should drop dead.’ Unquote. Hull-Mendoza says he won’t publistat the affydavits to pertect his sources. He says they was sworn by three former employes of the Bureau which was fired for in-com-petence and in-com-pat-ibility by Kingsley-Schultz.

“Elsewhere they was the usual run of traffic accidents. A three-way pileup of cars on Route 66 going outta Chicago took twelve lives. The Chicago-Los Angeles morning rocket crashed and exploded in the Mo-have--Mo-javvy--what-ever-you-call-it Desert. All the 94 people aboard got killed. A Civil Aeronautics Authority investigator on the scene says that the pilot was buzzing herds of sheep and didn’t pull out in time.

“Hey! Here’s a hot one from New York! A Diesel tug run wild in the harbor while the crew was below and shoved in the port bow of the luck-shury liner S. S. Placentia. It says the ship filled and sank taking the lives of an es-ti-mated 180 passengers and 50 crew members. Six divers was sent down to study the wreckage, but they died, too, when their suits turned out to be fulla little holes.

“And here is a bulletin I just got from Denver. It seems--”


Barlow took off the headset uncomprehendingly. “He seemed so callous,” he yelled at the driver. “I was listening to a newscast--”

Tinny-Peete shook his head and pointed at his ears. The roar of air was deafening. Barlow frowned baffledly and stared out of the window.

A glowing sign said:

MOOGS!

WOULD YOU BUY IT

FOR A QUARTER?

He didn’t know what Moogs was or were; the illustration showed an incredibly proportioned girl, 99.9 per cent naked, writhing passionately in animated full color.

The roadside jingle was still with him, but with a new feature. Radar or something spotted the car and alerted the lines of the jingle. Each in turn sped along a roadside track, even with the car, so it could be read before the next line was alerted.

IF THERE’S A GIRL

YOU WANT TO GET

DEFLOCCULIZE

UNROMANTIC SWEAT.

“ARMPITT*O”

Another animated job, in two panels, the familiar “Before and After.” The first said, “Just Any Cigar?” and was illustrated with a two-person domestic tragedy of a wife holding her nose while her coarse and red-faced husband puffed a slimy-looking rope. The second panel glowed, “Or a VUELTA ABAJO?” and was illustrated with--

Barlow blushed and looked at his feet until they had passed the sign.

“Coming into Chicago!” bawled Tinny-Peete.

Other cars were showing up, all of them dreamboats.

Watching them, Barlow began to wonder if he knew what a kilometer was, exactly. They seemed to be traveling so slowly, if you ignored the roaring air past your ears and didn’t let the speedy lines of the dreamboats fool you. He would have sworn they were really crawling along at twenty-five, with occasional spurts up to thirty. How much was a kilometer, anyway?

The city loomed ahead, and it was just what it ought to be: towering skyscrapers, overhead ramps, landing platforms for helicopters--

He clutched at the cushions. Those two ‘copters. They were going to--they were going to--they--

He didn’t see what happened because their apparent collision courses took them behind a giant building.


Screamingly sweet blasts of sound surrounded them as they stopped for a red light. “What the hell is going on here?” said Barlow in a shrill, frightened voice, because the braking time was just about zero, he wasn’t hurled against the dashboard. “Who’s kidding who?”

“Why, what’s the matter?” demanded the driver.

The light changed to green and he started the pickup. Barlow stiffened as he realized that the rush of air past his ears began just a brief, unreal split-second before the car was actually moving. He grabbed for the door handle on his side.

The city grew on them slowly: scattered buildings, denser buildings, taller buildings, and a red light ahead. The car rolled to a stop in zero braking time, the rush of air cut off an instant after it stopped, and Barlow was out of the car and running frenziedly down a sidewalk one instant after that.

They’ll track me down, he thought, panting. _It’s a secret police thing. They’ll get you--mind-reading machines, television eyes everywhere, afraid you’ll tell their slaves about freedom and stuff. They don’t let anybody cross them, like that story I once read._

Winded, he slowed to a walk and congratulated himself that he had guts enough not to turn around. That was what they always watched for. Walking, he was just another business-suited back among hundreds. He would be safe, he would be safe--

A hand tumbled from a large, coarse, handsome face thrust close to his: “Wassamatta bumpinninna people likeya owna sidewalk gotta miner slamya inna mushya bassar!” It was neither the mad potter nor the mad driver.

“Excuse me,” said Barlow. “What did you say?”

“Oh, yeah?” yelled the stranger dangerously, and waited for an answer.

Barlow, with the feeling that he had somehow been suckered into the short end of an intricate land-title deal, heard himself reply belligerently, “Yeah!”

The stranger let go of his shoulder and snarled, “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah!” said Barlow, yanking his jacket back into shape.

“Aaah!” snarled the stranger, with more contempt and disgust than ferocity. He added an obscenity current in Barlow’s time, a standard but physiologically impossible directive, and strutted off hulking his shoulders and balling his fists.


Barlow walked on, trembling. Evidently he had handled it well enough. He stopped at a red light while the long, low dreamboats roared before him and pedestrians in the sidewalk flow with him threaded their ways through the stream of cars. Brakes screamed, fenders clanged and dented, hoarse cries flew back and forth between drivers and walkers. He leaped backward frantically as one car swerved over an arc of sidewalk to miss another.

The signal changed to green, the cars kept on coming for about thirty seconds and then dwindled to an occasional light-runner. Barlow crossed warily and leaned against a vending machine, blowing big breaths.

Look natural, he told himself. _Do something normal. Buy something from the machine._

He fumbled out some change, got a newspaper for a dime, a handkerchief for a quarter and a candy bar for another quarter.

The faint chocolate smell made him ravenous suddenly. He clawed at the glassy wrapper printed “CRIGGLIES” quite futilely for a few seconds, and then it divided neatly by itself. The bar made three good bites, and he bought two more and gobbled them down.

Thirsty, he drew a carbonated orange drink in another one of the glassy wrappers from the machine for another dime. When he fumbled with it, it divided neatly and spilled all over his knees. Barlow decided he had been there long enough and walked on.

The shop windows were--shop windows. People still wore and bought clothes, still smoked and bought tobacco, still ate and bought food. And they still went to the movies, he saw with pleased surprise as he passed and then returned to a glittering place whose sign said it was THE BIJOU.

The place seemed to be showing a quintuple feature, _Babies Are Terrible, Don’t Have Children, and The Canali Kid_.

It was irresistible; he paid a dollar and went in.

He caught the tail-end of The Canali Kid in three-dimensional, full-color, full-scent production. It appeared to be an interplanetary saga winding up with a chase scene and a reconciliation between estranged hero and heroine. Babies Are Terrible and _Don’t Have Children_ were fantastic arguments against parenthood--the grotesquely exaggerated dangers of painfully graphic childbirth, vicious children, old parents beaten and starved by their sadistic offspring. The audience, Barlow astoundedly noted, was placidly champing sweets and showing no particular signs of revulsion.

The Coming Attractions drove him into the lobby. The fanfares were shattering, the blazing colors blinding, and the added scents stomach-heaving.


When his eyes again became accustomed to the moderate lighting of the lobby, he groped his way to a bench and opened the newspaper he had bought. It turned out to be The Racing Sheet, which afflicted him with a crushing sense of loss. The familiar boxed index in the lower left hand corner of the front page showed almost unbearably that Churchill Downs and Empire City were still in business--

Blinking back tears, he turned to the Past Performances at Churchill. They weren’t using abbreviations any more, and the pages because of that were single-column instead of double. But it was all the same--or was it?

He squinted at the first race, a three-quarter-mile maiden claimer for thirteen hundred dollars. Incredibly, the track record was two minutes, ten and three-fifths seconds. Any beetle in his time could have knocked off the three-quarter in one-fifteen. It was the same for the other distances, much worse for route events.

What the hell had happened to everything?

He studied the form of a five-year-old brown mare in the second and couldn’t make head or tail of it. She’d won and lost and placed and showed and lost and placed without rhyme or reason. She looked like a front-runner for a couple of races and then she looked like a no-good pig and then she looked like a mudder but the next time it rained she wasn’t and then she was a stayer and then she was a pig again. In a good five-thousand-dollar allowances event, too!

Barlow looked at the other entries and it slowly dawned on him that they were all like the five-year-old brown mare. Not a single damned horse running had the slightest trace of class.

Somebody sat down beside him and said, “That’s the story.”


Barlow whirled to his feet and saw it was Tinny-Peete, his driver.

“I was in doubts about telling you,” said the psychist, “but I see you have some growing suspicions of the truth. Please don’t get excited. It’s all right, I tell you.”

“So you’ve got me,” said Barlow.

Got you?”

“Don’t pretend. I can put two and two together. You’re the secret police. You and the rest of the aristocrats live in luxury on the sweat of these oppressed slaves. You’re afraid of me because you have to keep them ignorant.”

There was a bellow of bright laughter from the psychist that got them blank looks from other patrons of the lobby. The laughter didn’t sound at all sinister.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Tinny-Peete, still chuckling. “You couldn’t possibly have it more wrong.” He engaged Barlow’s arm and led him to the street. “The actual truth is that the millions of workers live in luxury on the sweat of the handful of aristocrats. I shall probably die before my time of overwork unless--” He gave Barlow a speculative look. “You may be able to help us.”

“I know that gag,” sneered Barlow. “I made money in my time and to make money you have to get people on your side. Go ahead and shoot me if you want, but you’re not going to make a fool out of me.”

“You nasty little ingrate!” snapped the psychist, with a kaleidoscopic change of mood. “This damned mess is all your fault and the fault of people like you! Now come along and no more of your nonsense.”

He yanked Barlow into an office building lobby and an elevator that, disconcertingly, went whoosh loudly as it rose. The real estate man’s knees were wobbly as the psychist pushed him from the elevator, down a corridor and into an office.

A hawk-faced man rose from a plain chair as the door closed behind them. After an angry look at Barlow, he asked the psychist, “Was I called from the Pole to inspect this--this--?”

“Unget updandered. I’ve dee-probed etfind quasichance exhim Poprobattackline,” said the psychist soothingly.

“Doubt,” grunted the hawk-faced man.

“Try,” suggested Tinny-Peete.

“Very well. Mr. Barlow, I understand you and your lamented had no children.”

“What of it?”

“This of it. You were a blind, selfish stupid ass to tolerate economic and social conditions which penalized child-bearing by the prudent and foresighted. You made us what we are today, and I want you to know that we are far from satisfied. Damn-fool rockets! Damn-fool automobiles! Damn-fool cities with overhead ramps!”

“As far as I can see,” said Barlow, “you’re running down the best features of time. Are you crazy?”

“The rockets aren’t rockets. They’re turbo-jets--good turbo-jets, but the fancy shell around them makes for a bad drag. The automobiles have a top speed of one hundred kilometers per hour--a kilometer is, if I recall my paleolinguistics, three-fifths of a mile--and the speedometers are all rigged accordingly so the drivers will think they’re going two hundred and fifty. The cities are ridiculous, expensive, unsanitary, wasteful conglomerations of people who’d be better off and more productive if they were spread over the countryside.

“We need the rockets and trick speedometers and cities because, while you and your kind were being prudent and foresighted and not having children, the migrant workers, slum dwellers and tenant farmers were shiftlessly and short-sightedly having children--breeding, breeding. My God, how they bred!”


“Wait a minute,” objected Barlow. “There were lots of people in our crowd who had two or three children.”

“The attrition of accidents, illness, wars and such took care of that. Your intelligence was bred out. It is gone. Children that should have been born never were. The just-average, they’ll-get-along majority took over the population. The average IQ now is 45.”

“But that’s far in the future--”

“So are you,” grunted the hawk-faced man sourly.

“But who are you people?”

“Just people--real people. Some generations ago, the geneticists realized at last that nobody was going to pay any attention to what they said, so they abandoned words for deeds. Specifically, they formed and recruited for a closed corporation intended to maintain and improve the breed. We are their descendants, about three million of us. There are five billion of the others, so we are their slaves.

“During the past couple of years I’ve designed a skyscraper, kept Billings Memorial Hospital here in Chicago running, headed off war with Mexico and directed traffic at LaGuardia Field in New York.”

“I don’t understand! Why don’t you let them go to hell in their own way?”

There is more of this story...
The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

For the rest of this story you need to be logged in: Log In or Register for a Free account

Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Novel-Classic /