Authors: Daniel F. Galouye
Tags: #Science Fiction
From the outset, it was apparent that the evening’s activities weren’t going to detract a whit from Horace P. Siskin’s reputation as an extraordinary host.
On the basis of the Tycho Tumbling Trio alone, he had already provided the year’s most fascinating entertainment. But when he unveiled the first hypnostone from Mars’ Syrtis Major region, it was clear he had planted his distinction upon a new pinnacle.
As for myself, the trio and the stone, though intriguing on their own merits, sank to the level of the commonplace before the party was over. For I speak with exclusive authority when I say there is nothing as bizarre as watching a man just disappear.
Which, incidentally, was
part of the entertainment.
As commentary on Siskin’s lavish excesses, I might point out that the Tycho Tumblers had to have lunar-equivalent gravity. The G-suppressor platform, bulky and anomalous in its lush setting, dominated one of the rooms of the penthouse suite while its generators cluttered the roof garden outside.
The hypnostone presentation was a full production in itself, complete with two doctors in attendance. Without any inkling of the incongruous developments the evening held in futurity, I watched the proceedings with detached interest.
There was a slim young brunette whose piercing, dark eyes clouded and rained tears freely as one of the stone facets bathed her face with soft azure reflections.
Ever so slowly, the crystal rotated on its turntable, sending shafts of polychromatic light sweeping across the darkened room like the spokes of a great wheel. The radial movement stopped and a crimson beam fell upon the somewhat cautious face of one of Siskin’s elderly business associates.
“No!” He reacted instantly. “I’ve never smoked in my life! I won’t now!”
Laughter brimmed the room and the stone resumed rotation.
Perhaps concerned that I might be the next subject, I withdrew across plush carpeting to the refreshment alcove.
At the bar, I dialed the autotender for a Scotch-asteroid and stood staring through the window at the sparkling city below.
“Punch me a bourbon and water, will you, Doug?” It was Siskin. In the subdued light he seemed inordinately small. Watching him approach, I marveled over the inconsistencies of appearance. Scarcely five feet three, he bore himself with the proud certainty of a giant—which indeed he was, financially speaking. A full head of hair, only slightly streaked with white, belied his sixty-four years, as did his almost unlined face and restless, gray eyes.
“One bourbon and water coming up,” I confirmed dryly, dialing in the order.
He leaned back against the bar. “You don’t seem to be enjoying the party,” he observed, a suggestion of petulance in his voice.
But I let it go without recognition.
He propped a size five shoe on the rung of a stool. “This blowout cost plenty. And it’s all for you. I should think you’d show
appreciation.” He was only half joking.
His drink came up and I handed it over. “
“Well, not entirely.” He laughed. “I’ll have to admit it has its promotional possibilities.”
“So I gathered. I see the press and networks are well represented.”
“You don’t object, do you? Something like this can give Reactions, Inc., an appropriate send-off.”
I lifted my drink from the delivery slot and gulped half of it. “REIN doesn’t need a send-off. It’ll stand on its own feet.”
Siskin bristled slightly-as he usually does when he senses even token opposition. “Hall, I like you. I’ve got you pegged for a possibly interesting future—not only in REIN, but perhaps also in some of my other enterprises. However—”
“I’m not interested in anything beyond Reactions.”
“For the present, however,” he continued firmly, “your contribution is singularly technical. You stick to your knitting as director and let my promotional specialists take care of their end of it.”
We drank in silence.
Then he twisted the glass in his tiny hands. “Of course, I realize you might resent not holding any interest in the corporation.”
“I’m not concerned with stock. I’m paid well enough. I just want to get the job done.”
“You see, it was different with Hannon Fuller.” Siskin stretched his fingers tensely around the glass. “He invented the hardware, the system. He came to me seeking financial backing. We formed the corporation—eight of us did, as a matter of fact. Under the arrangement, he came in for twenty per cent of the pot.”
“Having been his assistant for five years, I’m aware of all that.” I dialed the autotender for a refill.
have you out here sulking?”
Reflections from the hypnostone crept across the ceiling of the alcove and splashed against the window, fighting back the brilliance of the city. A woman screamed until her shrill cries were finally subdued by a swell of laughter.
I pushed upright from the bar and stared insolently down at Siskin. “Fuller died only a week ago. I feel like a jackal—celebrating the fact that I’m stepping up into his job.”
I turned to leave, but Siskin quickly said, “You were going to step up regardless. Fuller was on his way out as technical director. He wasn’t standing up under pressure.”
“That isn’t the way I heard it. Fuller said he was determined to keep you from using the social environment simulator for political probability forecasts.”
The hypnostone demonstration ended and the din that had until then been acoustically smothered began flowing toward the bar, carrying with it a gesticulating group of gowned women and their escorts.
A young blonde in the vanguard of the charge headed straight for me. Before I could move away, she had pinned my arm possessively against her gold-brocaded bodice. Her eyes were exaggerated with wonderment and silver-tinted pageboy tresses gamboled against her bare shoulders.
“Mr. Hall, wasn’t it simply amazing—that Martian hypnostone? Did you have anything to do with it? I suspect you did.”
I glanced over at Siskin, who was just then moving unobtrusively away. Then I recognized the girl as one of his private secretaries. The maneuver became clear. She was still on the job. Only her duties now were extracurricular, condolatory, and across the boundary lines of the Siskin Inner Establishment.
“No, I’m afraid that was all your boss’s idea.”
“Oh,” she said, staring after him in admiration as he walked off. “What an ingenious, imaginative little man. Why, he’s just a doll, isn’t he? A dapper, cuddly, little doll!”
I tried to squirm away, but she had been well instructed.
“And your field, Mr. Hall, is stim—stimulative—?”
“How fascinating! I understand that when you and Mr. Siskin get your machine—I may call it a machine, mayn’t I?—”
“It’s a total environment simulator. We’ve got the bugs out at last—third try. We call it Simulacron-3.”
“—that when you get your stimulator working, there won’t be any more need for the busybodies.”
By busybodies she meant, of course, certified reaction monitors, or “pollsters,” as they are more commonly called. I prefer the latter, since I never begrudge a man the chance to earn a living, even if it means an army of—well, busy—bodies, prying into the everyday habits and actions of the public.
“It’s not our intention to put anybody out of work,” I explained. “But when automation fully takes over in opinion sampling, some adjustments will have to be made in employment practices.”
She squirmed warmly against my arm, leading me over to the window. “What is your intention, Mr. Hall? Tell me about your—simulator. And everybody calls me Dorothy.”
“There’s not much to tell.”
“Oh, you’re being modest. I’m sure there is.”
If she was going to persist with the Siskin-inspired maneuver, there wasn’t any reason why I shouldn’t maneuver too—on a level somewhat above her head.
“Well you see, Miss Ford, we live in a complex society that prefers to take all the chance out of enterprise. Hence, more opinion-sampling organizations than you can shake a stick at. Before we market a product, we want to know who’s going to buy it, how often, what they’ll be willing to pay; which appeal will work best in the religious conversions; what chance Governor Stone has for re-election; which items are in demand; whether Aunt Bessie will prefer blue to pink in next season’s fashions.”
She interrupted with a tinkle of laughter. “Busybodies behind every bush.”
I nodded. “Opinion samplers galore. Nuisances, of course. But they enjoy official status under the Reaction Monitors’ Code.”
“And Mr. Siskin’s going to do away with all that—Mr. Siskin and you?”
“Thanks to Hannon J. Fuller, we’ve found a better way. We can electronically simulate a social environment. We can populate it with subjective analogs—reactional identity units. By manipulating the environment, by prodding the ID units, we can estimate behavior in hypothetical situations.”
Her glittering smile wavered, gave way to an uncertain expression, then was back again in full flower. “I see,” she said. But it was apparent she didn’t. Which encouraged my tactic.
“The simulator is an electromathematical model of an average community. It permits long-range behavior forecasts. And those predictions are even more valid than the results you get when you send an army of pollsters—busybodies—snooping throughout the city.”
She laughed weakly. “But of course. Why, I never dreamed—be a doll, will you, Doug? Get us a drink—anything.”
Through some misdirected sense of obligation to the Siskin Establishment, I possibly would have gotten her the drink. But the bar was lined four deep and, while I hesitated, one of the young bucks in promotion homed eagerly in on target Dorothy.
Relieved, I wandered over to the buffet table. Nearby, Siskin, flanked by a columnist and a network representative, was holding forth on the soon-to-be-unveiled marvels of REIN’s simulator.
He beamed effusively. “Actually, it’s possible this new application of simulectronics—it’s a secret process, you know—will have such an impact on our culture that the rest of the Siskin Establishment will have to take a back seat to Reactions, Inc.”
The video man asked a question and Siskin’s response was like a reflex. “Simulectronics is
compared to this thing. Computer-based probability forecasting is restricted to
line of stimulus-response investigation. REIN’s total environment simulator—which we call Simulacron-3—on the other hand, will come up with the answer to
question concerning hypothetical reaction along the entire spectrum of human behavior.”
He was, of course, parroting Fuller. But from Siskin’s mouth the words were only vainglorious. Fuller, by contrast, had believed in his simulator as though it were a creed rather than a three-story building packed with complex circuitry.
I thought of Fuller and felt lonely and inadequate to the challenge of continuing in his directorial footsteps. He had been a dedicated superior, but a warm and considerate friend. All right—so he
eccentric. But that was only because his purpose was all-important. Simulacron-3 might have been only an investment as far as Siskin was concerned. But to Fuller it was an intriguing and promising doorway whose portals were soon to open on a new and better world.
His alliance with the Siskin Establishment had been a financial expedient. But he had always intended that while the simulator was raking in contractual revenue, it would also be fully exploring the unpredictable fields of social interaction and human relations as a means of suggesting a more orderly society, from the bottom up.
I drifted over toward the door and, from the corner of my eye, watched Siskin break away from the newsmen. He crossed the room swiftly and shielded the “open” stud with his hand.
“Not thinking of walking out on us, are you?”
Obviously, he was referring to the possibility of my leaving the party. But, then again,
he? It occurred to me that I was an indispensable resource. Oh, REIN would go on to eminent success without me. But if Siskin was going to get
return on his investment, I’d have to stay on to implement refinements Fuller had confided to me.
Just then the buzzer sounded and the door’s one-way video screen sparkled with the image of a slim, neatly-dressed man whose left sleeve was pinched within a Certified Reaction Monitor armband.
Siskin’s eyebrows elevated with delight. “A busybody, no less! We’ll liven up the party.” He pressed the stud.
The door swung open and the caller announced himself:
“John Cromwell, CRM Number 1146-A2. I represent the Foster Opinion Sampling Foundation, under contract to the State House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee.”
The man glanced beyond Siskin and took in the clusters of guests around the buffet table and the bar. He appeared impatient and apologetically uncomfortable.
“Good God, man!” Siskin protested, winking at me. “It’s practically the middle of the night!”
“This is a Type A priority survey, ordered and supported by the legislative authority of the state. Are you Mr. Horace P. Siskin?”
“I am.” Siskin folded his arms and appeared even more as Dorothy Ford had described him—a dapper little doll.
“Good.” The other produced a pad of official forms and a pen. “I’m to poll your opinion on economic prospects over the next fiscal year as they’ll affect state revenue.”
“I won’t answer any questions,” Siskin said stubbornly.
Knowing what to expect, some of the guests had paused to watch. Their anticipatory laughter was audible above the hum of conversation.
The pollster frowned. “You must. You are an officially registered interrogatee, qualified in the businessman category.”
If his approach appeared stilted, it was. That’s because reaction monitors usually rise to the occasion whenever their sampling contracts serve the public interest. Ordinary commercial polling procedures are not nearly as formal.
“I still won’t answer,” Siskin reiterated. “If you’ll refer to Article 326 of the RM Code—”
“I’ll find that recreational activities are not to be interrupted for monitoring purposes.” The other cited his regulation. “But the privilege clause is inapplicable when sampling is in the interest of public agencies.”