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Mr. Tanter kept smiling and rocked back and forth on his feet as Krayton had done. Before nightfall The Computer would be a useless and overheated mass of plastic and metal!

He took a printed folder from his pocket and casually dropped it on the floor where someone would be sure to find it. It was one of the pamphlets the Prims were always leaving around.



By Henry Slesar

Mechanical brains are all the rage these days, so General Products just had to have one. But the blamed thing almost put them out of business. Why? It had no tact. It insisted upon telling the truth!

The Personnelovac winked, chittered, chortled, chuckled, and burped a card into the slot. Colihan picked it up and closed his eyes in prayer.

"Oh, Lord. Let this one be all right!"

He read the card. It was pink.

"Subject #34580. Apt. Rat. 34577. Psych. Clas. 45. Last Per. Vac.

"An. 3/5/98. Rat. 19. Cur. Rat. 14.

"Analysis: Subject demonstrates decreased mechanical coordination. Decrease in work-energy per man-hour. Marked increase in waste-motion due to subject's interest in non-essential activities such as horseracing. Indication of hostility towards superiors.

"Recommendation: Fire him."

Colihan's legs went weak. He sat down and placed the card in front of him. Then, making sure he was unobserved, he broke a company rule and began to Think.

Something's wrong, he thought. Something is terribly wrong. Twenty-four pink cards in the last month. Twenty-four out of forty. That's a batting average of--He tried to figure it out with a pencil, but gave it up as a bad job. Maybe I'll run it through the Averagovac, he thought. But why bother? It's obvious that it's high. There's obviously SOMETHING WRONG.

The inter-com beeped.

"Ten o'clock department head meeting, Mr. Colihan."

[Illustration: The steel brain was having more fun than people.]

"All right, Miss Blanche."

He rose from his chair and took the pink card with him. He stood before the Action Chute for a moment, tapping the card against his teeth. Then, his back stiffened with a sense of duty, and he slipped the card inside.

The meeting had already begun when Colihan took his appointed place. Grimswitch, the Materielovac operator looked at him quizzically. Damn your eyes, Grimswitch, he thought. It's no crime to be three minutes late. Nothing but a lot of pep talk first five minutes anyway.

"PEP!" said President Moss at the end of the room. He slammed his little white fist into the palm of his other hand. "It's only a little word. It only has three little letters. P-E-P. Pep!"

Moss, standing at the head of the impressive conference table, leaned forward and eyed them fixedly. "But those three little letters, my friends, spell out a much bigger word. A much bigger word for General Products, Incorporated. They spell PROFIT! And if you don't know how profit is spelled, it's M-O-N-N-E-Y!"

There was an appreciative laugh from the assembled department heads. Colihan, however, was still brooding on the parade of pink cards which had been emerging with frightening regularity from his think-machine, and he failed to get the point.

"Naughty, naughty," Grimswitch whispered to him archly. "Boss made a funny. Don't forget to laugh, old boy."

Colihan threw him a sub-zero look.

"Now let's be serious," said the boss. "Because things are serious. Mighty serious. Somewhere, somehow, somebody's letting us down!"

The department heads looked uneasily at each other. Only Grimswitch continued to smile vacantly at the little old man up front, drumming his fingers on the glass table top. When the President's machine-gunning glance caught his eyes, Colihan went white. Does he know about it? he thought.

"I'm not making accusations," said Moss. "But there is a let-down someplace. Douglas!" he snapped.

Douglas, the Treasurer, did a jack-in-the-box.

"Read the statement," said the President.

"First quarter fiscal year," said Douglas dryly. "Investment capital, $17,836,975,238.96. Assets, $84,967,442,279.55. Liabilities, $83,964,283,774.60. Production costs are--"

Moss waved his hand impatiently. "The meat, the meat," he said.

Douglas adjusted his glasses. "Total net revenue, $26,876,924.99."

"COMPARISON!" The President screamed. "Let's have last first quarter, you idiot!"

"Ahem!" Douglas rattled the paper in annoyance. "Last first quarter fiscal year net revenue $34,955,376.81. Percent decrease--"

"Never mind." The little old man waved the Treasurer to his seat with a weary gesture. His face, so much like somebody's grandmother, looked tragic as he spoke his next words.

"You don't need the Accountovac to tell you the significance of those figures, gentlemen." His voice was soft, with a slight quaver. "We are not making much p-r-o-f-i-t. We are losing m-o-n-e-y. And the point is--what's the reason? There must be some reason." His eyes went over them again, and Colihan, feeling like the culprit, slumped in his chair.

"I have a suggestion," said the President. "Just an idea. Maybe some of us just aren't showing enough p-e-p."

There was a hushed silence.

The boss pushed back his chair and walked over to a cork-lined wall. With a dramatic gesture, he lifted one arm and pointed to the white sign that covered a fourth of it.

"See that?" he asked. "What does it say?"

The department heads looked dubious.

"Well, what does it say?" repeated Moss.

"ACT!" The department heads cried in chorus.

"Exactly!" said the little old man with a surprising bellow. "ACT! The word that made us a leader. The word that guides our business destiny. The word that built General Products!"

He paced the floor. The chairs in the conference room creaked as the department heads stirred to follow him with their eyes.

"ACT is our motto. ACT is our password. ACT is our key to success. And why not? The Brains do the thinking. All of us put together couldn't think so effectively, so perfectly, so honestly as the Brains. They take the orders, designate raw materials, equipment, manpower. They schedule our work. They analyze our products. They analyze our people."

Colihan trembled.

"There's only one important function left to us. And that's ACT!"

The President bowed his head and walked slowly back to his seat. He sat down, and with great fatigue evident in his voice, he concluded his polemic.

"That's why we must have pep, gentlemen. Pep. Now--how do you spell it?"

"P! E! P!" roared the department heads.

The meeting was over. The department heads filed out.

Colihan's secretary placed the morning mail on his desk. There was a stack of memos at least an inch thick, and the Personnel Manager moaned at the sight of it.

"Production report doesn't look too good," said Miss Blanche, crisply. "Bet we get a flood of aptitude cards from Morgan today. Grimswitch has sent over a couple. That makes eleven from him this month. He really has his problems."

Colihan grunted. He deserves them, he thought.

"How did the meeting go?"

"Huh?" Colihan looked up. "Oh, fine, fine. Boss was in good voice, as usual."

"I think there's an envelope from him in the stack."

"What?" Colihan hoped that his concern wasn't visible. He riffled through the papers hurriedly, and came up with a neat white envelope engraved with the words: OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT.

Miss Blanche watched him, frankly curious. "That will be all," he told her curtly.

When she had left, he ripped the envelope open and read the contents. It was in Moss's own cramped handwriting, and it was a request for a three o'clock "man-to-man" talk.

Oh, Lord, he thought. Now it's going to happen.

President Moss was eating an apple.

He ate so greedily that the juice spilled over his chin.

Sitting behind his massive oak desk, chair tilted back, apple juice dappling his whiskers, he looked so small and unformidable, that Colihan took heart.

"Well, Ralph--how goes it?"

He called me Ralph, thought Colihan cheerfully. He's not such a bad old guy.

"Don't grow apples like they used to," the President said. "This hydroponic stuff can't touch the fruit we used to pick. Say, did you ever climb a real apple tree and knock 'em off the branches?"

Colihan blinked. "No, sir."

"Greatest thrill in the world. My father had an orchard in Kennebunkport. Apples by the million. Green apples. Sweet apples. Delicious. Spy. Baldwin." He sighed. "Something's gone out of our way of life, Ralph."

Why, he's just an old dear, thought Colihan. He looked at the boss with new sympathy.

"Funny thing about apples. My father used to keep 'em in barrels down in the basement. He used to say to me, 'Andrew,' he'd say, 'don't never put a sour apple in one of these barrels. 'Cause just one sour apple can spoil the whole derned lot.'" The boss looked at Colihan and took a big noisy bite.

Colihan smiled inanely. Was Moss making some kind of point?

"Well, we can't sit around all day and reminisce, eh, Ralph? Much as I enjoy it. But we got a business to run, don't we?"

"Yes, sir," said the Personnel Manager.

"Mighty big business, too. How's your side of it, Ralph? Old Personnelovac hummin' along nicely?"

"Yes, sir," said Colihan, wondering if he should voice his fears about the Brain.

"Marvelous machine, that. Most marvelous of 'em all, if you ask me. Sizes up a man beautifully. And best of all, it's one hundred percent honest. That's a mighty important quality, Ralph."

Colihan was getting worried. The boss's conversation was just a little too folksy for his liking.

"Yes, sir, a mighty fine quality. My father used to say: 'Andrew, an honest man can always look you in the eyes.'"

Colihan stared uncomprehendingly. He realized that Moss had stopped talking, so he looked him squarely in the eyes and said: "He must have been a fine man, your father."

"He was honest," said Moss. "I'll say that for him. He was honest as they come. Did you ever hear of Dimaggio?"

"It sounds familiar--"

"It should. Dimaggio was a legendary figure. He took a lantern and went out into the world looking for an honest man. And do you know something? He couldn't find one. You know, Ralph, sometimes I feel like Dimaggio."

Colihan gulped.

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