The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 11

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"Now do you understand?" he asked Corinne. "A mechanical servant! Think of it! Of course ma.s.s production may be years away, but ..."

"Everyone will have Thursday nights off," said Corinne--but Ronald was already jabbing at b.u.t.tons as Pascal dragged the vacuum cleaner back to its niche in the closet.

Later, Corinne persuaded Ronald to take her to a movie, but not until the last moment was she certain that Pascal wasn't going to drag along.

Every afternoon of the following week Ronald Lovegear called from the laboratory in New York to ask how Pascal was getting along.

"Just fine," Corinne told him on Thursday afternoon. "But he certainly ruined some of the tomato plants in the garden. He just doesn't seem to hoe in a straight line. Are you certain it's the green b.u.t.ton I push?"



"It's probably one of the pressure regulators," interrupted Ronald. "I'll check it when I get home." Corinne suspected by his lowered voice that Mr. Hardwick had walked into the lab.

That night Pascal successfully washed and dried the dishes, cracking only one cup in the process. Corinne spent the rest of the evening sitting in the far corner of the living room, thumbing the pages of a magazine.

On the following afternoon--prompted perhaps by that perverse female trait which demands completion of all projects once started--Corinne lingered for several minutes in the vegetable department at the grocery. She finally picked out a fresh, round and blus.h.i.+ng pumpkin.

Later in her kitchen, humming a little tune under her breath, Corinne deftly maneuvered a paring knife to transform the pumpkin into a very reasonable facsimile of a man's head. She placed the pumpkin over the tiny shaft between Pascal's box-shaped shoulders and stepped back.

She smiled at the moon-faced idiot grinning back at her. He was complete, and not bad-looking! But just before she touched the red b.u.t.ton once and the blue b.u.t.ton twice--which sent Pascal stumbling out to the backyard to finish weeding the circle of pansies before dinner--she wondered about the gash that was his mouth. She distinctly remembered carving it so that the ends curved upward into a frozen and quite harmless smile. But one end of the toothless grin seemed to sag a little, like the cynical smile of one who knows his powers have been underestimated.

Corinne would not have had to worry about her husband's reaction to the new vegetable-topped Pascal. Ronald accepted the transformation good-naturedly, thinking that a little levity, once in a while, was a good thing.

"And after all," said Corinne later that evening, "I'm the one who has to spend all day in the house with ..." She lowered her voice: "With Pascal."

But Ronald wasn't listening. He retired to his den to finish the plans for the ma.s.s production of competent mechanical men. One for every home in America.... He fell asleep with the thought.

Corinne and Pascal spent the next two weeks going through pretty much the same routine. He, methodically jolting through the household ch.o.r.es; she, walking aimlessly from room to room, smoking too many cigarettes. She began to think of Pascal as a boarder. Strange--at first he had been responsible for that unwanted feeling. But now his helpfulness around the house had lightened her burden. And he was so cheerful all the time! After living with Ronald's preoccupied frown for seven years ...

After luncheon one day, when Pascal neglected to shut off the garden hose, she caught herself scolding him as if he were human. Was that a shadow from the curtain waving in the breeze, or did she see a hurt look flit across the mouth of the pumpkin? Corinne put out her hand and patted Pascal's cylindrical wrist.

It was warm--flesh warm.

She hurried upstairs and stood breathing heavily with her back to the door. A little later she thought she heard someone--someone with a heavy step--moving around downstairs.

"I left the control box down there," she thought. "Of course, it's absurd...."

At four o'clock she went slowly down the stairs to start Ronald's dinner. Pascal was standing by the refrigerator, exactly where she had left him. Not until she had started to peel the potatoes did she notice the little bouquet of pansies in the center of the table.

Corinne felt she needed a strong cup of tea. She put the water on and placed a cup on the kitchen table. Not until she was going to sit down did she decide that perhaps Pascal should be in the other room.

She pressed the red b.u.t.ton, the one which should turn him around, and the blue b.u.t.ton, which should make him walk into the living room. She heard the little buzz of mechanical life as Pascal began to move. But he did not go into the other room! He was holding a chair for her, and she sat down rather heavily. A sudden rush of pleasure reddened her cheeks. Not since sorority days ...

Before Pascal's arms moved away she touched his wrist again, softly, only this time her hand lingered. And his wrist was warm!

"When do they want Pascal back at the lab?" she asked Ronald at dinner that evening, trying to keep her voice casual.

Ronald smiled. "I think I might have him indefinitely, dear. I've got Hardwick convinced I'm working on something revolutionary." He stopped. "Oh, Corinne! You've spilled coffee all over yourself."

The following night Ronald was late in getting home from work. It was raining outside the Newark station and the cabs deliberately evaded him. He finally caught a bus, which deposited him one block from his house. He cut through the back alley, hurrying through the rain. Just before he started up the stairs he glanced through the lighted kitchen window. He stopped, gripping the railing for support.

In the living room were Pascal and Corinne. Pascal was reclining leisurely in the fireside chair; Corinne was standing in front of him. It was the expression on her face which stopped Ronald Lovegear. The look was a compound of restraint and compulsion, the reflection of some deep struggle in Corinne's soul. Then she suddenly leaned forward and pressed her lips to Pascal's full, fleshy pumpkin mouth. Slowly, one of Pascal's aluminum arms moved up and encircled her waist.

Mr. Lovegear stepped back into the rain. He stood there for several minutes. The rain curled around the brim of his hat, dropped to his face, and rolled down his cheeks with the slow agitation of tears.

When, finally, he walked around to the front and stamped heavily up the stairs, Corinne greeted him with a flush in her cheeks. Ronald told her that he didn't feel "quite up to dinner. Just coffee, please." When it was ready he sipped slowly, watching Corinne's figure as she moved around the room. She avoided looking at the aluminum figure in the chair.

Ronald put his coffee down, walked over to Pascal, and, gripping him behind the shoulders, dragged him into the den.

Corinne stood looking at the closed door and listened to the furious pounding.

Ten minutes later Ronald came out and went straight to the phone.

"Yes! Immediately!" he told the man at the freight office. While he sat there waiting Corinne walked upstairs.

Ronald did not offer to help the freight men drag the box outside. When they had gone he went into the den and came back with the pumpkin. He opened the back door and hurled it out into the rain. It cleared the back fence and rolled down the alley stopping in a small puddle in the cinders.

After a while the water level reached the mouth and there was a soft choking sound. The boy who found it the next morning looked at the mouth and wondered why anyone would carve such a sad Jack-O'-Lantern.

THE END.

Contents

HARD GUY.

by H. B. Carleton

There will be fine, glittering, streamlined automobiles in 2000 A.D. Possibly they will run themselves while the driver sits back with an old-fas.h.i.+oned in his hands. Perhaps they will carry folks down the highways at ninety miles an hour in perfect safety. But picking up a hitch-hiker will still be as dangerous as it is today.

He was standing at the side of the gla.s.site super-highway, his arm half-raised, thumb pointed in the same direction as that of the approaching rocket car. Ordinarily Frederick Marden would have pa.s.sed a hitch-hiker without stopping, but there was something in the bearing and appearance of this one that caused him to apply his brakes.

Marden opened the door next to the vacant seat beside him.

"Going my way?" he asked.

A pair of steady, unsmiling blue eyes looked him over. "Yeah."

"All right, then. Hop in."

The hitch-hiker took his time. He slid into the seat with casual deliberateness and slammed the car door shut. The rocket car got under way once more.

They rode in silence for half a mile or so. Finally Marden glanced questioningly at his companion's expressionless profile.

"Where are you headed for?" he asked.

"Dentonville." He spoke from the corner of his mouth, without turning his head.

"Oh, yes. That's the next town, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

Not very communicative, reflected Marden, noticing the rather ragged condition of the other's celo-lex clothing.

"Have much trouble getting rides?"

The pa.s.senger turned his head, his blue eyes without emotion.

"Yeah. Most guys are leery about pickin' up hitch-hikers. Scared they'll get robbed."

Marden pursed his lips, nodded.

"Something to that, all right. I'm usually pretty careful myself; but I figured you looked okay."

"Can't always tell by looks," was the calm reply. "'Course us guys mostly pick out some guy with a swell atomic-mobile if we're goin' to pull a stick-up. When we see a old heap like this one there's usually not enough dough to make it pay."

Marden felt his jaw drop.

"Say, you sound, like you go in for that sort of thing! I'm telling you right now, I haven't enough cash on me to make it worth your while. I'm just a salesman, trying to get along."

"You got nothin' to worry about," his pa.s.senger a.s.sured him. "Stick-ups ain't my racket."

An audible sigh of relief escaped Marden.

"I'm certainly glad to hear that! What is your--er--racket, anyway?"

The blue eyes frosted over.

"Look, chum, sometimes it ain't exactly healthy to ask questions like that."

"Pardon me," Marden said hastily. "I didn't mean anything. It's none of my business, of course."

The calm eyes flicked over his contrite expression.

"Skip it, pal. You look like a right guy. I'll put you next to somethin'. Only keep your lip b.u.t.toned, see?"

"Oh, absolutely."

"I'm Mike Eagen--head of the Strato Rovers."

"No!" Marden was plainly awed. "The Strato Rovers, eh? I've heard of them, all right."

The other nodded complacently.

"Yeah. We're about the toughest mob this side of Mars. We don't bother honest people, though. We get ours from the crooks and racketeers. They can't squeal to the Interplanetary Police."

"There's a lot in what you say," agreed Marden. "And of course that puts your ... mob in the Robin Hood cla.s.s."

"Robin Hood--nuts! That guy was a dope! Runnin' around with bows and arrows. Why, we got a mystery ray that paralyzes anybody that starts up with us. They're all right when it wears off, but by that time we get away."

Marden was properly impressed.

"A mystery ray! With a weapon like that, you should be able to walk into a bank and clean it out without any trouble."

His pa.s.senger's lips curled.

"I told you, we don't bother honest people. We even help the S.P. sometimes. Right now we're workin' with the Earth-Mars G-men in roundin' up a gang of fifth-columnists that are plannin' on takin' over the gov'ment. They're led by the Black Hornet. This Black Hornet goes around pretendin' like he's a big business man, but he's really a internatural spy."

"A--what?"

"A internatural spy," repeated Marden's companion, shortly. "The E-M G-men say he's the most dangerous man in the country. But he won't last long with the Strato Rovers on his trail."

Marden nodded.

"I can believe that. Tell me, Eagen, what are you doing out here around a small Earth town like Dentonville?"

"The gov'ment's buildin' some kind of a ammunition place near here, and I understand the Black Hornet's figurin' on wreckin' everything. 'Course he won't get away with it."

Scattered plasticade houses on either side of the road indicated they had reached the outskirts of Dentonville. Mike Eagen pointed ahead to a small white house set back among a cl.u.s.ter of trees.

"There's where I'm holed up. Drop me off in front."

A young woman in a faded blue satin-gla.s.s house-dress was standing at the gate of the white picket fence. She watched in silence as the pa.s.senger stepped from the rocket car and lifted his hand to the driver in careless farewell.

"Thanks for the lift, chum," said Mike Eagen.

"Not at all," replied Marden. "Glad to have been of service to Mike Eagen."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol V Part 11

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