Part 1 of 2
The Marching Morons
C. M. Kornbluth
Originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction
Included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Vol. Two
for one of the best novellas up to 1965 and as selected
by the Science Fiction Writers of America
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
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 Field's 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's real pretty."
"How much?" the secretary asked the potter.
"Seven-fifty each in dozen lots," said Hawkins. "I ran up fifteen dozen
"They are real est'etic," repeated the buyer from Field's. "I will take
"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 twohundred-
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
ERSITY OF CHIC
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
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 anæsthetic Cycloparadimethanol-
B-7, developed at the University.
After administration of the anæsthetic, 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 ass
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 Girl's Gymnasium
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
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
anæsthesia, 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 resistance,
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 striæ of the stuff.
Hawkins wished that he had an archaeologist with him, but didn't dream
of returning to his hops and calling one to take over the find. He was an allaround
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 crystallized 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
"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 crystallized 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 anæsthesia. 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
"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
"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.
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
"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 towards the shop. "Where are we
going — The Council of Scientists, the World Co-ordinator or something like
"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 bestsellers
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
"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
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 over the door- or was it
the door?-in a futile search for a handle, and asked respectfully, "How fast does
The psychist gave him a keen look and said slowly, "Two hundred and
fifty. You can tell by the speedometer."
"Wow! My old Chevy 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 traffing 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 supermodern 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
"The show of shows! The supershow! 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 atriangle-shaped cutout and like that down the line. Now
we got these here boards, they got cutout places the same shape as the
triangles and things, only they're all different shapes, and the first contestant
that sticks the cutouts into the boards, he wins.
"Now I'm gonna innaview the first contes-tant. Right here, honey. What's
"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
"-latest from Washington. It's about Senator Hull-Mendoza. He is still
attacking the Bureau of Fisheries. The North California Syndicalist says he got
affydavits 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. HullMendoza 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- competence
and in-com-pat-ibility by Kingsley-Schultz.
"Elsewhere they was the usual run of traffic accidents. A threeway
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-whatever-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-timated
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
"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:
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 percent 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
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, and 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
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,
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 triple 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
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
"So you've got me," said Barlow.
"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