The Creature From Cleveland Depths

by Fritz Leiber

Public Domain

Science Fiction Story: Here is a modern tale of an inner-directed sorcerer and an outer-directed sorcerer's apprentice.

Tags: Science Fiction   Novel-Classic  

“Come on, Gussy,” Fay prodded quietly, “quit stalking around like a neurotic bear and suggest something for my invention team to work on. I enjoy visiting you and Daisy, but I can’t stay aboveground all night.”

“If being outside the shelters makes you nervous, don’t come around any more,” Gusterson told him, continuing to stalk. “Why doesn’t your invention team think of something to invent? Why don’t you? Hah!” In the “Hah!” lay triumphant condemnation of a whole way of life.

“We do,” Fay responded imperturbably, “but a fresh viewpoint sometimes helps.”

“I’ll say it does! Fay, you burglar, I’ll bet you’ve got twenty people like myself you milk for free ideas. First you irritate their bark and then you make the rounds every so often to draw off the latex or the maple gloop.”

Fay smiled. “It ought to please you that society still has a use for you outre inner-directed types. It takes something to make a junior executive stay aboveground after dark, when the missiles are on the prowl.”

“Society can’t have much use for us or it’d pay us something,” Gusterson sourly asserted, staring blankly at the tankless TV and kicking it lightly as he passed on.

“No, you’re wrong about that, Gussy. Money’s not the key goad with you inner-directeds. I got that straight from our Motivations chief.”

“Did he tell you what we should use instead to pay the grocer? A deep inner sense of achievement, maybe? Fay, why should I do any free thinking for Micro Systems?”

“I’ll tell you why, Gussy. Simply because you get a kick out of insulting us with sardonic ideas. If we take one of them seriously, you think we’re degrading ourselves, and that pleases you even more. Like making someone laugh at a lousy pun.”


Gusterson held still in his roaming and grinned. “That the reason, huh? I suppose my suggestions would have to be something in the line of ultra-subminiaturized computers, where one sinister fine-etched molecule does the work of three big bumbling brain cells?”

“Not necessarily. Micro Systems is branching out. Wheel as free as a rogue star. But I’ll pass along to Promotion your one molecule-three brain cell sparkler. It’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s catchy.”

“I’ll have my kids watch your ads to see if you use it and then I’ll sue the whole underworld.” Gusterson frowned as he resumed his stalking. He stared puzzledly at the antique TV. “How about inventing a plutonium termite?” he said suddenly. “It would get rid of those stockpiles that are worrying you moles to death.”

Fay grimaced noncommittally and cocked his head.

“Well, then, how about a beauty mask? How about that, hey? I don’t mean one to repair a woman’s complexion, but one she’d wear all the time that’d make her look like a 17-year-old sexpot. That’d end her worries.”

“Hey, that’s for me,” Daisy called from the kitchen. “I’ll make Gusterson suffer. I’ll make him crawl around on his hands and knees begging my immature favors.”

“No, you won’t,” Gusterson called back. “You having a face like that would scare the kids. Better cancel that one, Fay. Half the adult race looking like Vina Vidarsson is too awful a thought.”

“Yah, you’re just scared of making a million dollars,” Daisy jeered.

“I sure am,” Gusterson said solemnly, scanning the fuzzy floor from one murky glass wall to the other, hesitating at the TV. “How about something homey now, like a flock of little prickly cylinders that roll around the floor collecting lint and flub? They’d work by electricity, or at a pinch cats could bat ‘em around. Every so often they’d be automatically herded together and the lint cleaned off the bristles.”

“No good,” Fay said. “There’s no lint underground and cats are verboten. And the aboveground market doesn’t amount to more moneywise than the state of Southern Illinois. Keep it grander, Gussy, and more impractical--you can’t sell people merely useful ideas.” From his hassock in the center of the room he looked uneasily around. “Say, did that violet tone in the glass come from the high Cleveland hydrogen bomb or is it just age and ultraviolet, like desert glass?”


“No, somebody’s grandfather liked it that color,” Gusterson informed him with happy bitterness. “I like it too--the glass, I mean, not the tint. People who live in glass houses can see the stars--especially when there’s a window-washing streak in their germ-plasm.”

“Gussy, why don’t you move underground?” Fay asked, his voice taking on a missionary note. “It’s a lot easier living in one room, believe me. You don’t have to tramp from room to room hunting things.”

“I like the exercise,” Gusterson said stoutly.

“But I bet Daisy’d prefer it underground. And your kids wouldn’t have to explain why their father lives like a Red Indian. Not to mention the safety factor and insurance savings and a crypt church within easy slidewalk distance. Incidentally, we see the stars all the time, better than you do--by repeater.”

“Stars by repeater,” Gusterson murmured to the ceiling, pausing for God to comment. Then, “No, Fay, even if I could afford it--and stand it--I’m such a bad-luck Harry that just when I got us all safely stowed at the N minus 1 sublevel, the Soviets would discover an earthquake bomb that struck from below, and I’d have to follow everybody back to the treetops. Hey! How about bubble homes in orbit around earth? Micro Systems could subdivide the world’s most spacious suburb and all you moles could go ellipsing. Space is as safe as there is: no air, no shock waves. Free fall’s the ultimate in restfulness--great health benefits. Commute by rocket--or better yet stay home and do all your business by TV-telephone, or by waldo if it were that sort of thing. Even pet your girl by remote control--she in her bubble, you in yours, whizzing through vacuum. Oh, damn-damn-damn-damn-DAMN!”

He was glaring at the blank screen of the TV, his big hands clenching and unclenching.

“Don’t let Fay give you apoplexy--he’s not worth it,” Daisy said, sticking her trim head in from the kitchen, while Fay inquired anxiously, “Gussy, what’s the matter?”

“Nothing, you worm!” Gusterson roared, “Except that an hour ago I forgot to tune in on the only TV program I’ve wanted to hear this year--Finnegans Wake scored for English, Gaelic and brogue. Oh, damn-damn-DAMN!”

“Too bad,” Fay said lightly. “I didn’t know they were releasing it on flat TV too.”


“Well, they were! Some things are too damn big to keep completely underground. And I had to forget! I’m always doing it--I miss everything! Look here, you rat,” he blatted suddenly at Fay, shaking his finger under the latter’s chin, “I’ll tell you what you can have that ignorant team of yours invent. They can fix me up a mechanical secretary that I can feed orders into and that’ll remind me when the exact moment comes to listen to TV or phone somebody or mail in a story or write a letter or pick up a magazine or look at an eclipse or a new orbiting station or fetch the kids from school or buy Daisy a bunch of flowers or whatever it is. It’s got to be something that’s always with me, not something I have to go and consult or that I can get sick of and put down somewhere. And it’s got to remind me forcibly enough so that I take notice and don’t just shrug it aside, like I sometimes do even when Daisy reminds me of things. That’s what your stupid team can invent for me! If they do a good job, I’ll pay ‘em as much as fifty dollars!”

“That doesn’t sound like anything so very original to me,” Fay commented coolly, leaning back from the wagging finger. “I think all senior executives have something of that sort. At least, their secretary keeps some kind of file...”

“I’m not looking for something with spiked falsies and nylons up to the neck,” interjected Gusterson, whose ideas about secretaries were a trifle lurid. “I just want a mech reminder--that’s all!”

“Well, I’ll keep the idea in mind,” Fay assured him, “along with the bubble homes and beauty masks. If we ever develop anything along those lines, I’ll let you know. If it’s a beauty mask, I’ll bring Daisy a pilot model--to use to scare strange kids.” He put his watch to his ear. “Good lord, I’m going to have to cut to make it underground before the main doors close. Just ten minutes to Second Curfew! ‘By, Gus. ‘By, Daze.”

Two minutes later, living room lights out, they watched Fay’s foreshortened antlike figure scurrying across the balding ill-lit park toward the nearest escalator.

Gusterson said, “Weird to think of that big bright space-poor glamor basement stretching around everywhere underneath. Did you remind Smitty to put a new bulb in the elevator?”

“The Smiths moved out this morning,” Daisy said tonelessly. “They went underneath.”

“Like cockroaches,” Gusterson said. “Cockroaches leavin’ a sinkin’ apartment building. Next the ghosts’ll be retreatin’ to the shelters.”

“Anyhow, from now on we’re our own janitors,” Daisy said.

He nodded. “Just leaves three families besides us loyal to this glass death trap. Not countin’ ghosts.” He sighed. Then, “You like to move below, Daisy?” he asked softly, putting his arm lightly across her shoulders. “Get a woozy eyeful of the bright lights and all for a change? Be a rat for a while? Maybe we’re getting too old to be bats. I could scrounge me a company job and have a thinking closet all to myself and two secretaries with stainless steel breasts. Life’d be easier for you and a lot cleaner. And you’d sleep safer.”

“That’s true,” she answered and paused. She ran her fingertip slowly across the murky glass, its violet tint barely perceptible against a cold dim light across the park. “But somehow,” she said, snaking her arm around his waist, “I don’t think I’d sleep happier--or one bit excited.”

II

Three weeks later Fay, dropping in again, handed to Daisy the larger of the two rather small packages he was carrying.

“It’s a so-called beauty mask,” he told her, “complete with wig, eyelashes, and wettable velvet lips. It even breathes--pinholed elastiskin with a static adherence-charge. But Micro Systems had nothing to do with it, thank God. Beauty Trix put it on the market ten days ago and it’s already started a teen-age craze. Some boys are wearing them too, and the police are yipping at Trix for encouraging transvestism with psychic repercussions.”

“Didn’t I hear somewhere that Trix is a secret subsidiary of Micro?” Gusterson demanded, rearing up from his ancient electric typewriter. “No, you’re not stopping me writing, Fay--it’s the gut of evening. If I do any more I won’t have any juice to start with tomorrow. I got another of my insanity thrillers moving. A real id-teaser. In this one not only all the characters are crazy but the robot psychiatrist too.”

“The vending machines are jumping with insanity novels,” Fay commented. “Odd they’re so popular.”

Gusterson chortled. “The only way you outer-directed moles will accept individuality any more even in a fictional character, without your superegos getting seasick, is for them to be crazy. Hey, Daisy! Lemme see that beauty mask!”

But his wife, backing out of the room, hugged the package to her bosom and solemnly shook her head.

“A hell of a thing,” Gusterson complained, “not even to be able to see what my stolen ideas look like.”

“I got a present for you too,” Fay said. “Something you might think of as a royalty on all the inventions someone thought of a little ahead of you. Fifty dollars by your own evaluation.” He held out the smaller package. “Your tickler.”

“My what?” Gusterson demanded suspiciously.

“Your tickler. The mech reminder you wanted. It turns out that the file a secretary keeps to remind her boss to do certain things at certain times is called a tickler file. So we named this a tickler. Here.”

Gusterson still didn’t touch the package. “You mean you actually put your invention team to work on that nonsense?”

“Well, what do you think? Don’t be scared of it. Here, I’ll show you.”

As he unwrapped the package, Fay said, “It hasn’t been decided yet whether we’ll manufacture it commercially. If we do, I’ll put through a voucher for you--for ‘development consultation’ or something like that. Sorry no royalty’s possible. Davidson’s squad had started to work up the identical idea three years ago, but it got shelved. I found it on a snoop through the closets. There! Looks rich, doesn’t it?”


On the scarred black tabletop was a dully gleaming silvery object about the size and shape of a cupped hand with fingers merging. A tiny pellet on a short near-invisible wire led off from it. On the back was a punctured area suggesting the face of a microphone; there was also a window with a date and time in hours and minutes showing through and next to that four little buttons in a row. The concave underside of the silvery “hand” was smooth except for a central area where what looked like two little rollers came through.

“It goes on your shoulder under your shirt,” Fay explained, “and you tuck the pellet in your ear. We might work up bone conduction on a commercial model. Inside is an ultra-slow fine-wire recorder holding a spool that runs for a week. The clock lets you go to any place on the 7-day wire and record a message. The buttons give you variable speed in going there, so you don’t waste too much time making a setting. There’s a knack in fingering them efficiently, but it’s easily acquired.”

Fay picked up the tickler. “For instance, suppose there’s a TV show you want to catch tomorrow night at twenty-two hundred.” He touched the buttons. There was the faintest whirring. The clock face blurred briefly three times before showing the setting he’d mentioned. Then Fay spoke into the punctured area: “Turn on TV Channel Two, you big dummy!” He grinned over at Gusterson. “When you’ve got all your instructions to yourself loaded in, you synchronize with the present moment and let her roll. Fit it on your shoulder and forget it. Oh, yes, and it literally does tickle you every time it delivers an instruction. That’s what the little rollers are for. Believe me, you can’t ignore it. Come on, Gussy, take off your shirt and try it out. We’ll feed in some instructions for the next ten minutes so you get the feel of how it works.”

“I don’t want to,” Gusterson said. “Not right now. I want to sniff around it first. My God, it’s small! Besides everything else it does, does it think?”

“Don’t pretend to be an idiot, Gussy! You know very well that even with ultra-sub-micro nothing quite this small can possibly have enough elements to do any thinking.”

Gusterson shrugged. “I don’t know about that. I think bugs think.”


Fay groaned faintly. “Bugs operate by instinct, Gussy,” he said. “A patterned routine. They do not scan situations and consequences and then make decisions.”

“I don’t expect bugs to make decisions,” Gusterson said. “For that matter I don’t like people who go around alla time making decisions.”

“Well, you can take it from me, Gussy, that this tickler is just a miniaturized wire recorder and clock ... and a tickler. It doesn’t do anything else.”

“Not yet, maybe,” Gusterson said darkly. “Not this model. Fay, I’m serious about bugs thinking. Or if they don’t exactly think, they feel. They’ve got an interior drama. An inner glow. They’re conscious. For that matter, Fay, I think all your really complex electronic computers are conscious too.”

“Quit kidding, Gussy.”

“Who’s kidding?”

“You are. Computers simply aren’t alive.”

“What’s alive? A word. I think computers are conscious, at least while they’re operating. They’ve got that inner glow of awareness. They sort of ... well ... meditate.”

“Gussy, computers haven’t got any circuits for meditating. They’re not programmed for mystical lucubrations. They’ve just got circuits for solving the problems they’re on.”

“Okay, you admit they’ve got problem-solving circuits--like a man has. I say if they’ve got the equipment for being conscious, they’re conscious. What has wings, flies.”

“Including stuffed owls and gilt eagles and dodoes--and wood-burning airplanes?”

“Maybe, under some circumstances. There was a wood-burning airplane. Fay,” Gusterson continued, wagging his wrists for emphasis, “I really think computers are conscious. They just don’t have any way of telling us that they are. Or maybe they don’t have any reason to tell us, like the little Scotch boy who didn’t say a word until he was fifteen and was supposed to be deaf and dumb.”

“Why didn’t he say a word?”

“Because he’d never had anything to say. Or take those Hindu fakirs, Fay, who sit still and don’t say a word for thirty years or until their fingernails grow to the next village. If Hindu fakirs can do that, computers can!”

Looking as if he were masticating a lemon, Fay asked quietly, “Gussy, did you say you’re working on an insanity novel?”


Gusterson frowned fiercely. “Now you’re kidding,” he accused Fay. “The dirty kind of kidding, too.”

“I’m sorry,” Fay said with light contrition. “Well, now you’ve sniffed at it, how about trying on Tickler?” He picked up the gleaming blunted crescent and jogged it temptingly under Gusterson’s chin.

“Why should I?” Gusterson asked, stepping back. “Fay, I’m up to my ears writing a book. The last thing I want is something interrupting me to make me listen to a lot of junk and do a lot of useless things.”

“But, dammit, Gussy! It was all your idea in the first place!” Fay blatted. Then, catching himself, he added, “I mean, you were one of the first people to think of this particular sort of instrument.”

“Maybe so, but I’ve done some more thinking since then.” Gusterson’s voice grew a trifle solemn. “Inner-directed worthwhile thinkin’. Fay, when a man forgets to do something, it’s because he really doesn’t want to do it or because he’s all roiled up down in his unconscious. He ought to take it as a danger signal and investigate the roiling, not hire himself a human or mech reminder.”

“Bushwa,” Fay retorted. “In that case you shouldn’t write memorandums or even take notes.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t,” Gusterson agreed lamely. “I’d have to think that over too.”

“Ha!” Fay jeered. “No, I’ll tell you what your trouble is, Gussy. You’re simply scared of this contraption. You’ve loaded your skull with horror-story nonsense about machines sprouting minds and taking over the world--until you’re even scared of a simple miniaturized and clocked recorder.” He thrust it out.

“Maybe I am,” Gusterson admitted, controlling a flinch. “Honestly, Fay, that thing’s got a gleam in its eye as if it had ideas of its own. Nasty ideas.”

“Gussy, you nut, it hasn’t got an eye.”

“Not now, no, but it’s got the gleam--the eye may come. It’s the Cheshire cat in reverse. If you’d step over here and look at yourself holding it, you could see what I mean. But I don’t think computers sprout minds, Fay. I just think they’ve got minds, because they’ve got the mind elements.”

“Ho, ho!” Fay mocked. “Everything that has a material side has a mental side,” he chanted. “Everything that’s a body is also a spirit. Gussy, that dubious old metaphysical dualism went out centuries ago.”

“Maybe so,” Gusterson said, “but we still haven’t anything but that dubious dualism to explain the human mind, have we? It’s a jelly of nerve cells and it’s a vision of the cosmos. If that isn’t dualism, what is?”

“I give up. Gussy, are you going to try out this tickler?”

“No!”

“But dammit, Gussy, we made it just for you!--practically.”

“Sorry, but I’m not coming near the thing.”

“Zen come near me,” a husky voice intoned behind them. “Tonight I vant a man.”


Standing in the door was something slim in a short silver sheath. It had golden bangs and the haughtiest snub-nosed face in the world. It slunk toward them.

“My God, Vina Vidarsson!” Gusterson yelled.

“Daisy, that’s terrific,” Fay applauded, going up to her.

She bumped him aside with a swing of her hips, continuing to advance. “Not you, Ratty,” she said throatily. “I vant a real man.”

“Fay, I suggested Vina Vidarsson’s face for the beauty mask,” Gusterson said, walking around his wife and shaking a finger. “Don’t tell me Trix just happened to think of that too.”

“What else could they think of?” Fay laughed. “This season sex means VV and nobody else.” An odd little grin flicked his lips, a tic traveled up his face and his body twitched slightly. “Say, folks, I’m going to have to be leaving. It’s exactly fifteen minutes to Second Curfew. Last time I had to run and I got heartburn. When are you people going to move downstairs? I’ll leave Tickler, Gussy. Play around with it and get used to it. ‘By now.”

“Hey, Fay,” Gusterson called curiously, “have you developed absolute time sense?”

Fay grinned a big grin from the doorway--almost too big a grin for so small a man. “I didn’t need to,” he said softly, patting his right shoulder. “My tickler told me.”

He closed the door behind him.

As side-by-side they watched him strut sedately across the murky chilly-looking park, Gusterson mused, “So the little devil had one of those nonsense-gadgets on all the time and I never noticed. Can you beat that?” Something drew across the violet-tinged stars a short bright line that quickly faded. “What’s that?” Gusterson asked gloomily. “Next to last stage of missile-here?”

“Won’t you settle for an old-fashioned shooting star?” Daisy asked softly. The (wettable) velvet lips of the mask made even her natural voice sound different. She reached a hand back of her neck to pull the thing off.

“Hey, don’t do that,” Gusterson protested in a hurt voice. “Not for a while anyway.”

“Hokay!” she said harshly, turning on him. “Zen down on your knees, dog!”

III

It was a fortnight and Gusterson was loping down the home stretch on his 40,000-word insanity novel before Fay dropped in again, this time promptly at high noon.

Normally Fay cringed his shoulders a trifle and was inclined to slither, but now he strode aggressively, his legs scissoring in a fast, low goosestep. He whipped off the sunglasses that all moles wore topside by day and began to pound Gusterson on the back while calling boisterously, “How are you, Gussy Old Boy, Old Boy?”

Daisy came in from the kitchen to see why Gusterson was choking. She was instantly grabbed and violently bussed to the accompaniment of, “Hiya, Gorgeous! Yum-yum! How about ad-libbing that some weekend?”

She stared at Fay dazedly, rasping the back of her hand across her mouth, while Gusterson yelled, “Quit that! What’s got into you, Fay? Have they transferred you out of R & D to Company Morale? Do they line up all the secretaries at roll call and make you give them an eight-hour energizing kiss?”

“Ha, wouldn’t you like to know?” Fay retorted. He grinned, twitched jumpingly, held still a moment, then hustled over to the far wall. “Look out there,” he rapped, pointing through the violet glass at a gap between the two nearest old skyscraper apartments. “In thirty seconds you’ll see them test the new needle bomb at the other end of Lake Erie. It’s educational.” He began to count off seconds, vigorously semaphoring his arm. “ ... Two ... three ... Gussy, I’ve put through a voucher for two yards for you. Budgeting squawked, but I pressured ‘em.”

Daisy squealed, “Yards!--are those dollar thousands?” while Gusterson was asking, “Then you’re marketing the tickler?”

“Yes. Yes,” Fay replied to them in turn. “ ... Nine ... ten...” Again he grinned and twitched. “Time for noon Com-staff,” he announced staccato. “Pardon the hush box.” He whipped a pancake phone from under his coat, clapped it over his face and spoke fiercely but inaudibly into it, continuing to semaphore. Suddenly he thrust the phone away. “Twenty-nine ... thirty ... Thar she blows!”

An incandescent streak shot up the sky from a little above the far horizon and a doubly dazzling point of light appeared just above the top of it, with the effect of God dotting an “i”.

“Ha, that’ll skewer espionage satellites like swatting flies!” Fay proclaimed as the portent faded. “Bracing! Gussy, where’s your tickler? I’ve got a new spool for it that’ll razzle-dazzle you.”

“I’ll bet,” Gusterson said drily. “Daisy?”

“You gave it to the kids and they got to fooling with it and broke it.”

“No matter,” Fay told them with a large sidewise sweep of his hand. “Better you wait for the new model. It’s a six-way improvement.”

“So I gather,” Gusterson said, eyeing him speculatively. “Does it automatically inject you with cocaine? A fix every hour on the second?”

“Ha-ha, joke. Gussy, it achieves the same effect without using any dope at all. Listen: a tickler reminds you of your duties and opportunities--your chances for happiness and success! What’s the obvious next step?”


“Throw it out the window. By the way, how do you do that when you’re underground?”

“We have hi-speed garbage boosts. The obvious next step is you give the tickler a heart. It not only tells you, it warmly persuades you. It doesn’t just say, ‘Turn on the TV Channel Two, Joyce program, ‘ it brills at you, ‘Kid, Old Kid, race for the TV and flip that Two Switch! There’s a great show coming through the pipes this second plus ten--you’ll enjoy the hell out of yourself! Grab a ticket to ecstasy!’”

“My God,” Gusterson gasped, “are those the kind of jolts it’s giving you now?”

“Don’t you get it, Gussy? You never load your tickler except when you’re feeling buoyantly enthusiastic. You don’t just tell yourself what to do hour by hour next week, you sell yourself on it. That way you not only make doubly sure you’ll obey instructions but you constantly reinoculate yourself with your own enthusiasm.”

“I can’t stand myself when I’m that enthusiastic,” Gusterson said. “I feel ashamed for hours afterwards.”

“You’re warped--all this lonely sky-life. What’s more, Gussy, think how still more persuasive some of those instructions would be if they came to a man in his best girl’s most bedroomy voice, or his doctor’s or psycher’s if it’s that sort of thing--or Vina Vidarsson’s! By the way, Daze, don’t wear that beauty mask outside. It’s a grand misdemeanor ever since ten thousand teen-agers rioted through Tunnel-Mart wearing them. And VV’s sueing Trix.”

“No chance of that,” Daisy said. “Gusterson got excited and bit off the nose.” She pinched her own delicately.

“I’d no more obey my enthusiastic self,” Gusterson was brooding, “than I’d obey a Napoleon drunk on his own brandy or a hopped-up St. Francis. Reinoculated with my own enthusiasm? I’d die just like from snake-bite!”

“Warped, I said,” Fay dogmatized, stamping around. “Gussy, having the instructions persuasive instead of neutral turned out to be only the opening wedge. The next step wasn’t so obvious, but I saw it. Using subliminal verbal stimuli in his tickler, a man can be given constant supportive euphoric therapy 24 hours a day! And it makes use of all that empty wire. We’ve revived the ideas of a pioneer dynamic psycher named Dr. Coué. For instance, right now my tickler is saying to me--in tones too soft to reach my conscious mind, but do they stab into the unconscious!--’Day by day in every way I’m getting sharper and sharper.’ It alternates that with ‘gutsier and gutsier’ and ... well, forget that. Coué mostly used ‘better and better’ but that seems too general. And every hundredth time it says them out loud and the tickler gives me a brush--just a faint cootch--to make sure I’m keeping in touch.”

“That third word-pair,” Daisy wondered, feeling her mouth reminiscently. “Could I guess?”


Gusterson’s eyes had been growing wider and wider. “Fay,” he said, “I could no more use my mind for anything if I knew all that was going on in my inner ear than if I were being brushed down with brooms by three witches. Look here,” he said with loud authority, “you got to stop all this--it’s crazy. Fay, if Micro’ll junk the tickler, I’ll think you up something else to invent--something real good.”

“Your inventing days are over,” Fay brilled gleefully. “I mean, you’ll never equal your masterpiece.”

“How about,” Gusterson bellowed, “an anti-individual guided missile? The physicists have got small-scale antigravity good enough to float and fly something the size of a hand grenade. I can smell that even though it’s a back-of-the-safe military secret. Well, how about keying such a missile to a man’s finger-prints--or brainwaves, maybe, or his unique smell!--so it can spot and follow him around then target in on him, without harming anyone else? Long-distance assassination--and the stinkingest gets it! Or you could simply load it with some disgusting goo and key it to teen-agers as a group--that’d take care of them. Fay, doesn’t it give you a rich warm kick to think of my midget missiles buzzing around in your tunnels, seeking out evil-doers, like a swarm of angry wasps or angelic bumblebees?”

“You’re not luring me down any side trails,” Fay said laughingly. He grinned and twitched, then hurried toward the opposite wall, motioning them to follow. Outside, about a hundred yards beyond the purple glass, rose another ancient glass-walled apartment skyscraper. Beyond, Lake Erie rippled glintingly.

“Another bomb-test?” Gusterson asked.

Fay pointed at the building. “Tomorrow,” he announced, “a modern factory, devoted solely to the manufacture of ticklers, will be erected on that site.”

“You mean one of those windowless phallic eyesores?” Gusterson demanded. “Fay, you people aren’t even consistent. You’ve got all your homes underground. Why not your factories?”

“Sh! Not enough room. And night missiles are scarier.”

“I know that building’s been empty for a year,” Daisy said uneasily, “but how--?”

“Sh! Watch! Now!

The looming building seemed to blur or fuzz for a moment. Then it was as if the lake’s bright ripples had invaded the old glass a hundred yards away. Wavelets chased themselves up and down the gleaming walls, became higher, higher ... and then suddenly the glass cracked all over to tiny fragments and fell away, to be followed quickly by fragmented concrete and plastic and plastic piping, until all that was left was the nude steel framework, vibrating so rapidly as to be almost invisible against the gleaming lake.


Daisy covered her ears, but there was no explosion, only a long-drawn-out low crash as the fragments hit twenty floors below and dust whooshed out sideways.

“Spectacular!” Fay summed up. “Knew you’d enjoy it. That little trick was first conceived by the great Tesla during his last fruity years. Research discovered it in his biog--we just made the dream come true. A tiny resonance device you could carry in your belt-bag attunes itself to the natural harmonic of a structure and then increases amplitude by tiny pushes exactly in time. Just like soldiers marching in step can break down a bridge, only this is as if it were being done by one marching ant.” He pointed at the naked framework appearing out of its own blur and said, “We’ll be able to hang the factory on that. If not, we’ll whip a mega-current through it and vaporize it. No question the micro-resonator is the neatest sweetest wrecking device going. You can expect a lot more of this sort of efficiency now that mankind has the tickler to enable him to use his full potential. What’s the matter, folks?”

Daisy was staring around the violet-walled room with dumb mistrust. Her hands were trembling.

“You don’t have to worry,” Fay assured her with an understanding laugh. “This building’s safe for a month more at least.” Suddenly he grimaced and leaped a foot in the air. He raised a clawed hand to scratch his shoulder but managed to check the movement. “Got to beat it, folks,” he announced tersely. “My tickler gave me the grand cootch.”

“Don’t go yet,” Gusterson called, rousing himself with a shudder which he immediately explained: “I just had the illusion that if I shook myself all my flesh and guts would fall off my shimmying skeleton, Brr! Fay, before you and Micro go off half cocked, I want you to know there’s one insuperable objection to the tickler as a mass-market item. The average man or woman won’t go to the considerable time and trouble it must take to load a tickler. He simply hasn’t got the compulsive orderliness and willingness to plan that it requires.”

“We thought of that weeks ago,” Fay rapped, his hand on the door. “Every tickler spool that goes to market is patterned like wallpaper with one of five designs of suitable subliminal supportive euphoric material. ‘Ittier and ittier, ‘ ‘viriler and viriler’--you know. The buyer is robot-interviewed for an hour, his personalized daily routine laid out and thereafter templated on his weekly spool. He’s strongly urged next to take his tickler to his doctor and psycher for further instruction-imposition. We’ve been working with the medical profession from the start. They love the tickler because it’ll remind people to take their medicine on the dot ... and rest and eat and go to sleep just when and how doc says. This is a big operation, Gussy--a biiiiiiig operation! ‘By!”

Daisy hurried to the wall to watch him cross the park. Deep down she was a wee bit worried that he might linger to attach a micro-resonator to this building and she wanted to time him. But Gusterson settled down to his typewriter and began to bat away.

“I want to have another novel started,” he explained to her, “before the ant marches across this building in about four and a half weeks ... or a million sharp little gutsy guys come swarming out of the ground and heave it into Lake Erie.”

IV

Early next morning windowless walls began to crawl up the stripped skyscraper between them and the lake. Daisy pulled the black-out curtains on that side. For a day or two longer their thoughts and conversations were haunted by Gusterson’s vague sardonic visions of a horde of tickler-energized moles pouring up out of the tunnels to tear down the remaining trees, tank the atmosphere and perhaps somehow dismantle the stars--at least on this side of the world--but then they both settled back into their customary easy-going routines. Gusterson typed. Daisy made her daily shopping trip to a little topside daytime store and started painting a mural on the floor of the empty apartment next theirs but one.

“We ought to lasso some neighbors,” she suggested once. “I need somebody to hold my brushes and admire. How about you making a trip below at the cocktail hours, Gusterson, and picking up a couple of girls for a starter? Flash the old viriler charm, cootch them up a bit, emphasize the delights of high living, but make sure they’re compatible roommates. You could pick up that two-yard check from Micro at the same time.”

“You’re an immoral money-ravenous wench,” Gusterson said absently, trying to dream of an insanity beyond insanity that would make his next novel a real id-rousing best-vender.

“If that’s your vision of me, you shouldn’t have chewed up the VV mask.”

“I’d really prefer you with green stripes,” he told her. “But stripes, spots, or sun-bathing, you’re better than those cocktail moles.”

Actually both of them acutely disliked going below. They much preferred to perch in their eyrie and watch the people of Cleveland Depths, as they privately called the local sub-suburb, rush up out of the shelters at dawn to work in the concrete fields and windowless factories, make their daytime jet trips and freeway jaunts, do their noon-hour and coffee-break guerrilla practice, and then go scurrying back at twilight to the atomic-proof, brightly lit, vastly exciting, claustrophobic caves.

Fay and his projects began once more to seem dreamlike, though Gusterson did run across a cryptic advertisement for ticklers in The Manchester Guardian, which he got daily by facsimile. Their three children reported similar ads, of no interest to young fry, on the TV and one afternoon they came home with the startling news that the monitors at their subsurface school had been issued ticklers. On sharp interrogation by Gusterson, however, it appeared that these last were not ticklers but merely two-way radios linked to the school police station transmitter.

“Which is bad enough,” Gusterson commented later to Daisy. “But it’d be even dirtier to think of those clock-watching superegos being strapped to kids’ shoulders. Can you imagine Huck Finn with a tickler, tellin’ him when to tie up the raft to a tow-head and when to take a swim?”

“I bet Fay could,” Daisy countered. “When’s he going to bring you that check, anyhow? Iago wants a jetcycle and I promised Imogene a Vina Kit and then Claudius’ll have to have something.”

Gusterson scowled thoughtfully. “You know, Daze,” he said, “I got a feeling Fay’s in the hospital, all narcotized up and being fed intravenously. The way he was jumping around last time, that tickler was going to cootch him to pieces in a week.”


As if to refute this intuition, Fay turned up that very evening. The lights were dim. Something had gone wrong with the building’s old transformer and, pending repairs, the two remaining occupied apartments were making do with batteries, which turned bright globes to mysterious amber candles and made Gusterson’s ancient typewriter operate sluggishly.

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