Read The Space Merchants Online

Authors: Frederik Pohl,C. M. Kornbluth

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General, #Adult, #SciFi-Masterwork, #Classics

The Space Merchants (6 page)

BOOK: The Space Merchants
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"So am I, Mitch, so am I! Enough of your personal life. We've got business. You saw O'Shea?" He had already dismissed the shooting from his mind.

"I did. He's coming up here today. He'll be working closely with me."

"Splendid! Some of that glory will rub off on Fowler Schocken Associates if we play our cards right. Dig into it, Mitch. I don't have to tell you how."

It was a dismissal.

O'Shea was waiting in the anteroom of my office. It wasn't an ordeal; most of the female personnel were clustered around him as he sat perched on a desk, talking gruffly and authoritatively. There was no mistaking the looks in their eyes. He was a thirty-five-inch midget, but he had money and fame, the two things we drill and drill into the population. O'Shea could have taken his pick of them. I wondered how many he had picked since his return to Earth in a blaze of glory.

We run a taut office, but the girls didn't scatter until I cleared my throat.

"Morning, Mitch," O'Shea said. "You over your shock?"

"Sure. And I ran right into another one. Somebody tried to shoot me." I told the story and he grunted thoughtfully.

"Have you considered getting a bodyguard?" he asked.

"Of course. But I won't. It must have been a mistake."

"Like that cargo nacelle?"

I paused. "Jack, can
we please
get off this subject? It gives me the horrors."

"Permission granted," he beamed. "Now, let's go to work—and on what?"

"First, words. We want words that are about Venus, words that'll tickle people. Make them sit up. Make them muse about change, and space, and other worlds. Words to make them a little discontented with what they are and a little hopeful about what they might be. Words to make them feel noble about feeling the way they do and make them happy about the existence of Indiastries and Starrzelius Verily and Fowler Schocken Associates. Words that will do all these things and also make them feel unhappy about the existence of Universal Products and Taunton Associates."

He was staring at me with his mouth open. "You aren't serious," he finally exclaimed.

"You're on the inside now," I said simply. "That's the way we work. That's the way we worked on you."

"What are you talking about?"

"You're wearing Starrzelius Verily clothes and shoes, Jack. It means we got you. Taunton and Universal worked on you, Starrzelius and Schocken worked on you—and you chose Starrzelius. We reached you. Smoothly, without your ever being aware that it was happening, you became persuaded that there was something rather nice about Starrzelius clothes and shoes and that there was something rather not-nice about Universal clothes and shoes."

"I never read the ads," he said defiantly.

I grinned. "Our ultimate triumph is wrapped up in that statement," I said.

"I solemnly promise," O'Shea said, "that as soon as I get back to my hotel room I'll send my clothes right down the incinerator chute—"

"Luggage too?" I asked. "Starrzelius luggage?"

He looked startled for a moment and then regained his calm. "Starrzelius luggage too," he said. "And then I'll pick up the phone and order a complete set of Universal luggage and apparel. And you can't stop me."

"I wouldn't dream of stopping you, Jack! It means more business for Starrzelius. Tell you what you're going to do: you'll get your complete set of Universal luggage and apparel. You'll use the luggage and wear the apparel for a while with a vague, submerged discontent. It's going to work on your libido, because our ads for Starrzelius—even though you say you don't read them—have convinced you that it isn't quite virile to trade with any other firm. Your self-esteem will suffer; deep down you'll
that you're not wearing the best. Your subconscious won't stand up under much of that. You'll find yourself 'losing' bits of Universal apparel. You'll find yourself 'accidentally' putting your foot through the cuff of your Universal pants. You'll find yourself overpacking the Universal luggage and damning it for not being roomier. You'll walk into stores and in a fit of momentary amnesia regarding this conversation you'll buy Starrzelius, bless you."

O'Shea laughed uncertainly. "And you did it with words?"

"Words and pictures. Sight and sound and smell and taste and touch. And the greatest of these is words. Do you read poetry?"

"My God, of course not! Who can?"

"I don't mean the contemporary stuff; you're quite right about that. I mean Keats, Swinburne, Wylie—the great lyricists."

"I used to," he cautiously admitted. "What about it?"

"I'm going to ask you to spend the morning and afternoon with one of the world's great lyric poets: a girl named Tildy Mathis. She doesn't know that she's a poet; she thinks she's a boss copywriter. Don't enlighten her. It might make her unhappy.

'Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time—'

That's the sort of thing she would have written before the rise of advertising. The correlation is perfectly clear. Advertising up, lyric poetry down. There are only so many people capable of putting together words that stir and move and sing. When it became possible to earn a very good living in advertising by exercising this capability, lyric poetry was left to untalented screwballs who had to shriek for attention and compete by eccentricity."

"Why are you telling me all this?" he asked.

"I said you're on the inside, Jack. There's a responsibility that goes with the power. Here in this profession we reach into the souls of men and women. We do it by taking talent and—redirecting it. Nobody should play with lives the way we do unless he's motivated by the highest ideals."

"I get you," he said softly. "Don't worry about my motives. I'm not in this thing for money or fame. I'm in it so the human race can have some elbow room and dignity again."

"That's it," I said, putting on Expression Number One. But inwardly I was startled. The "highest ideal" I had been about to cite was Sales.

I buzzed for Tildy. "Talk to her," I said. "Answer her questions. Ask her some. Make it a long, friendly chat. Make her share your experiences. And, without knowing it, she'll write lyric fragments of your experiences that will go right to the hearts and souls of the readers. Don't hold out on her."

"Certainly not. Uh, Mitch, will she hold out on me?"

The expression on his face was from a Tanagra figurine of a hopeful young satyr.

"She won't," I promised solemnly. Everybody knew about Tildy.

That afternoon, for the first time in four months, Kathy called me.

"Is anything wrong?" I asked sharply. "Anything I can do?"

She giggled. "Nothing wrong, Mitch. I just wanted to say hello and tell you thanks for a lovely evening."

"How about another one?" I asked promptly.

"Dinner at my place tonight suit you?"

"It certainly does. It certainly, certainly does. What color dress will you be wearing? I'm going to buy you a real flower!"

"Oh, Mitch, you needn't be extravagant. We aren't courting and I already know you have more money than God. But there
something I wish you'd bring."

"Only name it."

"Jack O'Shea. Can you manage it? I saw by the 'cast that he came into town this morning and I suppose he's working with you."

Very dampened, I said: "Yes, he is. I'll check with him and call you back. You at the hospital?"

"Yes. And thanks so much for trying. I'd love to meet him."

I got in touch with O'Shea in Tildy's office. "You booked up for tonight?" I asked.

"Hmmm ...I
be," he said. O'Shea was evidently learning about Tildy too.

"Here's my proposition. Quiet dinner at home with my wife and me. She happens to be beautiful and a good cook and a first-rate surgeon and excellent company."


"You're on."

So I called Kathy back and told her I'd bring the social lion about seven.

He stalked into my office at six, grumbling: "I'd better get a good meal out of this, Mitch. Your Miss Mathis appeals to me. What a dope! Does she have sense enough to come in out of the smog?"

"I don't believe so," I said. "But Keats was properly hooked by a designing wench, and Byron didn't have sense enough to stay out of the venereal ward. Swinburne made a tragic mess out of his life. Do I have to go on?"

"Please, no. What kind of marriage have you got?"

"Interlocutory," I said, a little painfully in spite of myself.

He raised his eyebrows a trifle. "Maybe it's just the way I was brought up, but there's something about those arrangements that sets my teeth on edge."

"Mine too," I said, "at least in my own case. In case Tildy missed telling you, my beautiful and talented wife doesn't want to finalize it, we don't live together, and unless I change her mind in four months we'll be washed up."

"Tildy did miss telling me," he said. "You're pretty sick about it, seems to me."

I almost gave in to self-pity. I almost invited his sympathy. I almost started to tell him how rough it was, how much I loved her, how she wasn't giving me an even break, how I'd tried everything I could think of and nothing would convince her. And then I realized that I'd be telling it to a sixty-pound midget who, if he married, might become at any moment his wife's helpless plaything or butt of ridicule.

"Middling sick," I said. "Let's go, Jack. Time for a drink and then the shuttle."

Kathy had never looked lovelier, and I wished I hadn't let her talk me out of shooting a couple of days' pay on a corsage at Carrier's.

She said hello to O'Shea and he announced loudly and immediately: "I like you. There's no gleam in your eye. No 'Isn't he cute?" gleam. No. 'My, he must be rich and frustrated!' gleam. No 'A girl's got a right to try anything once' gleam. In short, you like me and I like you."

As you may have gathered, he was a little drunk.

"You are going to have some coffee, Mr. O'Shea," she said. "I ruined myself to provide real pork sausages and real apple sauce, and you're going to taste them."

"Coffee?" he said. "Coffiest for me, ma'am. To drink coffee would be disloyal to the great firm of Fowler Schocken Associates with which I am associated. Isn't that right, Mitch?"

"I give absolution this once," I said. "Besides, Kathy doesn't believe the harmless alkaloid in Coffiest is harmless." Luckily she was in the kitchen corner with her back turned when I said that, and either missed it or could afford to pretend she did. We'd had a terrific four-hour battle over that very point, complete with epithets like "baby-poisoner" and "crackpot reformer" and a few others that were shorter and nastier.

The coffee was served and quenched O'Shea's mild glow. Dinner was marvelous. Afterward, we all felt more relaxed.

"You've been to the Moon, I suppose?" Kathy asked O'Shea.

"Not yet. One of these days."

"There's nothing there," I said. "It's a waste of time. One of our dullest, deadest accounts. I suppose we only kept it for the experience we'd get, looking ahead to Venus. A few thousand people mining—that's the

"Excuse me," O'Shea said, and retired.

I grabbed the chance. "Kathy, darling," I said, "it was very sweet of you to ask me over. Does it mean anything?"

She rubbed her right thumb and index finger together, and I knew that whatever she would say after that would be a lie. "It might, Mitch," she lied gently. "You'll have to give me time."

I threw away my secret weapon. "You're lying," I said disgustedly. "You always do this before you lie to me—I don't know about other people." I showed her, and she let out a short laugh.

"Fair's fair," she said with bitter amusement. "You always catch your breath and look right into my eyes when you lie to me—I don't know about your clients and fellow employees."

O'Shea returned and felt the tension at once. "I ought to be going," he said. "Mitch, do we leave together?"

Kathy nodded, and I said: "Yes."

There were the usual politenesses at the door, and Kathy kissed me good night. It was a long, warm, clinging kiss; altogether the kind of kiss that should start the evening rather than end it. It set her own pulse going—I felt that!—but she coolly closed the door on us.

"You thought about a bodyguard again?" O'Shea asked.

"It was a mistake," I said stubbornly.

"Let's stop by your place for a drink," he said ingenuously.

The situation was almost pathetic. Sixty-pound Jack O'Shea was bodyguarding me. "Sure," I said. We got on the shuttle.

He went into the room first and turned on the light, and nothing happened. While sipping a very weak whisky and soda, he drifted around the place checking window locks, hinges, and the like. "This chair would look better over there," he said. "Over there," of course, was out of the line of fire from the window. I moved it.

"Take care of yourself, Mitch," he said when he left. "That lovely wife and your friends would miss you if anything happened."

The only thing that happened was that I barked my shin setting up the bed, and that was happening all the time. Even Kathy, with a surgeon's neat, economical movements, bore the battle scars of life in a city apartment. You set up the bed at night, you took it down in the morning, you set up the table for breakfast, you took it down to get to the door. No wonder some shortsighted people sighed for the spacious old days, I thought, settling myself luxuriously for the night.




Things were rolling within a week. With Runstead out of my hair and at work on the PregNot-A.I.G. hassle, I could really grip the reins.

Tildy's girls and boys were putting out the copy—temperamental kids, sometimes doing a line a day with anguish; sometimes rolling out page after page effortlessly, with shining eyes, as though possessed. She directed and edited their stuff and passed the best of the best to me: nine-minute commercial scripts, pix cutlines, articles for planting, news stories, page ads, whispering campaign cuelines, endorsements, jokes-limericks-and-puns (clean and dirty) to float through the country.

BOOK: The Space Merchants
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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