It looked like I had created some form of life. Either that or some life-form in the stove oil that had been asleep a billion years had suddenly found a condition to its liking and had decided to give up hibernating in favor of reproduction.
What drove me on was the thought that I must have something here that was commercially important--a new culture of something that would revolutionize some branch of chemistry or biology. I wouldn't even stop to fry an egg. I chewed up some crackers and drank a few more bottles of beer when my stomach got too noisy. I wasn't sleepy, although my eyes felt like they were pushed four inches into my skull.
Junior's little chemistry set didn't tell me very much when I made the few tests I knew how. Litmus paper remained either red or blue when stuck into the jelly. This surprised me a little because this whole mass of de-sudsed washing compound mixture had started out with a pretty good shot of lye in it.
So my notes grew, but my useful information didn't. By midnight Sunday, it appeared that my jelly invention had only one important talent: The ability to drink endlessly anything containing water. And only the water was used, it seemed. Dissolved solids were cast aside in the form of variously colored dusts.
By now, the goop had outgrown the pail and was two-thirds up in the laundry tub. A slow drip from the faucet kept the surface of my monster in a constant state of frenzy, like feeding a rumpot beer by the thimbleful.
It was fascinating to watch the little curleycues of jelly flip up after each drop, reaching for more, and then falling back with a cranky little lash.
At two o'clock this morning, I began to get a little sense in me. Or maybe it was just the fear finally catching up again.
There was danger here.
I was too fuzzy to know exactly what the danger was, but I began to develop a husky hate for the whole project.
"Kill it!" came into my mind. "Get rid of it, Charlie!"
Lottie's scream shrilled back into my ears, and this command became very important to me. I became angry.
"Want a drink, do you?" I shouted out loud. I put on the tea kettle and when it was to full steam, I took it back to the tub. "I'll give you a drink with a kick in it!"
What happened, I would like to forget. Ten times as fast as it had climbed up the cold water spout, it ran up the boiling water stream, into the tea kettle, blew off the lid and swarmed over my hand with a scalding-dry slither that made me drop the kettle into the tub and scream with pain.
The jelly steamed and stuck to my flesh long enough to sear it half to the bone. Then it slopped back with the rest and left me grabbing my wrist and tearing at the flesh with my finger-nails to stop the pain.
Then I got insane mad. I got my big blowtorch I use for peeling paint, and I lit it and pumped it up as high as it would go and aimed it down into that tub.
Not too much happened. The jelly shrank away from the roaring blast, but it didn't climb over the edge of the tub. It shrank some more and I poured the flame on.
It didn't burn. It just got to be less and less, and what was left began to get cloudy. And when I hit the bottom of the tub, the last glob moved around pretty active, trying to escape the heat, but I got it. Every damned last shred of it, and I was laughing and crying when I dropped the torch into the tub. I had been holding it with my scalded hand and I guess I fainted.
I wasn't out long. I got up and dressed my hand with lard, and it felt pretty good. Took a couple of aspirins and sat down at Lottie's typewriter. I know I won't sleep until I get this off my mind in about the way it happened, because I probably won't believe all of it myself when I get back to normal.
I just now went out and fished the blowtorch out of the laundry tub. All there was left in the bottom of the tub was maybe half a pound of singed-looking--soap flakes?
There, I've finished writing this all down. But I'm still not sleepy. I'm not worried about patching things up with Lottie. She's the most wonderful, understanding wife a guy ever had.
My hand feels real good now. I got it wrapped in lard and gauze, and I could drive the truck if I wanted to.
I'm not afraid of getting fired or bawled out for not coming to work on time this morning.
No, the reason I haven't turned a wheel on my beer truck today is something else.
Friday night, when Lottie wanted to wash the roaster, I saved only a cup of the jelly for my experiments. The rest she washed down the drain.
The sewer empties into Lake Michigan.
The brewery where I load up is right on the shore of Lake Michigan.
I'm afraid to drive down there and look.
by Robert J. Martin
The ideal way to deal with a pest--any menace--is, of course, to make it useful to you....
The doctor's pen paused over the chart on his desk, "This is your third set of teeth, I believe?"
His patient nodded, "That's right, Doctor. But they were pretty slow coming in this time."
The doctor looked up quizzically, "Is that the only reason you think you might need a booster shot?"
"Oh, no ... of course not!" The man leaned forward and placed one hand, palm up, on the desk. "Last year I had an accident ... stupid ... lost a thumb." He shrugged apologetically, "It took almost six months to grow back."
Thoughtfully, the doctor leaned back in his chair, "Hm-m-m ... I see." As the man before him made an involuntary movement toward his pocket, the doctor smiled, "Go on, smoke if you want to." Picking up the chart, he murmured, "Six months ... much too long. Strange we didn't catch that at the time." He read silently for a few moments, then began to fill out a form clipped to the folder. "Well, I think you probably are due for another booster about now. There'll have to be the usual tests. Not that there's much doubt ... we like to be certain."
The middle-aged man seemed relieved. Then, on second thought, he hesitated uneasily, "Why? Is there any danger?"
Amusement flickered across the doctor's face, turned smoothly into a reassuring half-smile. "Oh, no. There's absolutely no danger involved. None at all. We have tissue-regeneration pretty well under control now. Still, I'm sure you understand that accurate records and data are very necessary to further research and progress."
Reassured, the patient thawed and became confidential, "I see. Well, I suppose it's kinda silly, but I don't much like shots. It's not that they hurt ... it's just that I guess I'm old-fashioned. I still feel kinda 'creepy' about the whole business." Slightly embarrassed, he paused and asked defensively, "Is that unusual?"
The doctor smiled openly now, "Not at all, not at all. Things have moved pretty fast in the past few years. I suppose it takes people's emotional reactions a while to catch up with developments that, logically, we accept as matter of fact."
He pushed his chair back from the desk, "Maybe it's not too hard to understand. Take 'fire' for example: Man lived in fear of fire for a good many hundred-thousand years--and rightly so, because he hadn't learned to control it. The principle's the same; First you learn to protect yourself from a thing; then control it; and, eventually, we learn to 'harness' it for a useful purpose." He gestured toward the man's cigarette, "Even so, man still instinctively fears fire--even while he uses it. In the case of tissue-regeneration, where the change took place so rapidly, in just a generation or so, that instinctive fear is even more understandable--although quite as unjustified, I assure you."
The doctor stood up, indicating that the session was ending. While his patient scrambled to his feet, hastily putting out his cigarette, the physician came around the desk. He put his hand on the man's shoulder, "Relax, take it easy--nothing to worry about. This is a wonderful age we live in. Barring a really major accident, there's no reason why you shouldn't live at least another seventy-five years. After all, that's a very remarkable viral-complex we have doing your 'repair' work."
As they walked to the door, the man shook his head, "Guess you're right, Doc. It's certainly done a good job so far, and I guess you specialists know what you're doing, even if folks don't understand it."
At the door he paused and half turned to the doctor, "But say ... something I meant to ask you. This 'stuff' ... er, this vaccine ... where did it come from? Seems to me I heard somewhere that, way back before you fellows got it 'tamed' it was something else--dangerous. There was another name for it. Do you know what I mean?"
The doctor's hand tightened on the doorknob. "Yes, I know," he said grimly, "but not many laymen remember. Just keep in mind what I told you. With any of these things, the pattern is protection, then control, then useful application." He turned to face his patient, "Back in the days before we put it to work for us--rebuilding tissue, almost ending aging and disease--the active basis for our vaccine caused a whole group of diseases, in itself."
Returning the man's searching gaze, the doctor opened the door, "We've come a long way since then. You see," he said quietly, "in those days they called it 'cancer'."
By Sam Mcclatchie, M.D.
The tall young man faded back quickly, poised for an instant and then threw a long high pass. The crowd came up roaring. Twenty yards from the goal line a smaller, sturdier player swerved quickly around the end and took the pass in his stride. With a beautiful curving run he tricked the fullback, crossed the line and then, showing no sign of effort, trotted back up the field and threw the ball to the umpire.
"Wonderful! What a magnificent runner that lad is! You're lucky to have him, George." The speaker, a trimly built, athletic man in his middle forties turned to his companion, talking loudly above the buzz of the crowd.
George Turner nodded agreement. "We are. Every other University in the States was after him. He's the first Boy America you know. We've been watching him for years."
"The first Boy America?" John Harmon echoed in surprise. "I didn't know that. You did say Boy America ... not All American?"
"He's both; All American in football and a Boy America too."
The gun signalled the end of the game and the two men rose from their box seats to go out. Directly below them the players trotted quickly towards the dressing rooms. Harmon leaned over to watch.
"There he is now. A fine-looking boy too!" He studied the young man's face intently. "Y'know he reminds me of somebody ... somebody I know well, but I can't put my finger on it."
"I'm not surprised. He's Gloria Manson's boy."
Harmon frowned. "No, that's not it, George. Of course there's the resemblance to his mother ... and who could forget the glorious Gloria even after twenty years. But it was the way he moved, and that smile." He shook his head. "It'll come to me yet."
They took the belt walk to the parking area and stepped off it at George's car. Moving quietly on its air cushion, the car joined the line-up out on the main road where George locked the controls on to Route 63. The speed rose to eighty and steadied as the car settled into its place in the traffic pattern. Relaxed in their seats the two men lit their anticancers and puffed contentedly as they watched the scenery. It would be another hour before George would need to touch the controls as they neared home.
"So he looks like someone you know?" George asked. "I'd like to know who it is just out of curiosity. As you are aware, no one but the Genetic Panel knows whose sperm is used to impregnate the Mother America."
"I haven't got it yet, George, but I will. Were you the geneticist for this boy?"
"Yes, I was. I told you he was Gloria Manson's. Don't you remember when you met her?"
"Soaring satellites!" Harmon exclaimed. "How could I forget? You introduced me to her."
"Twenty years ago," Turner mused. "What a crazy week that was. I guess you were glad to get back to the Space Force."
"In a way," Harmon agreed. "I've often wondered where you were since then. I never dreamed you'd be Dean of the Genetics Faculty when I came to the Space Engineering School."
"I hope you'll like it here," George said. "They couldn't have picked a better Director."
The senator from Alaska had the floor. He had had it for several hours now and the chamber was almost empty as he droned on.
"And so, gentlemen, I feel that the greatest state in the union, the only state that can afford to increase its population because there is still some unoccupied space, the only state where anti-conception vaccination is not compulsory until after four children instead of two, the state where ordinary people will have room to get out and exercise instead of being spectators, this state of Alaska, I say, is the only state that should be considered when we select a fine, virile American male as the father of America's Child of the Year. I would dare to go farther and say we should also provide the female, Mother America of 1995, except that our President, my fellow Alaskan, has generously decided that no one state can have both mother and father. Alaska is a man's country. It should provide the man ..."
Wearily George Turner got up and turned off the colorvision. The political pressures were increasing rapidly; that was obvious. What had started as a national search for the most suitable future parents in America would soon be a free-for-all. He would have to give the committee his choice, and quickly! Back to his work he went; calculating possibilities, eliminating entrants one by one. The National Genetics Laboratory had been given the task of screening the finalists from each state and Turner, much against his will, had been selected by the Director to do the work.
"George," he'd said one fateful morning, "I have a job for you."
"What's that, sir?"
"You've seen the report of this new contest being run by Dee Lish Baby Foods, haven't you?"
"Can't say I have, sir. I've been working on that new sex gene. Haven't had time to read the papers."
"Oh? Well it all started on their colorvision program, the one where they select the All American babies. You've seen it haven't you?"
Turner shook his head.
"Sputtering sputniks! I know you're all wrapped up in your work but it doesn't have to be a shroud. You'd better get out into the world a little." The Director laid a friendly arm on George's shoulder. "This job will be just the thing."
"Why, the contest! Dee Lish separate the babies into three groups. There's the natural All American baby selected from families in the two-baby group; then there's a prize for best baby in the unlimited family section. Naturally, since those parents are in the genetically superior group, it wouldn't be fair to pit them against the two-baby families. Then there's a class for babies of artificially impregnated mothers, both married and single. It's a very popular program. The prizes are wonderful and the winners in the limited family class are allowed to have more children than their quota, all expenses paid of course."
"I can see why it's popular all right," George said, "but where do I come in?"
"Three months ago the Dee Lish scenario writers had a brainstorm. They reasoned that if they began a new contest to pick the most suitable mother in America and then had her impregnated, artificially of course, by the most suitable donor, they would stir up all sorts of excitement for the next nine months and produce a baby that should be a worldbeater. The mother would be given a tremendous annuity, for life, and the babe assured of all expenses right through college."
"It all sounds faintly nauseating to me."
"George, you're impossible. A geneticist who still believes in fortuitous breeding!"
"I'm not so darn sure we can pick 'em better any other way. We certainly haven't got all the answers."
"I agree, George, I agree," the Director's smile was still friendly, if a little strained. "This is a National Laboratory, however, and the President rang me up the other day and asked that we do the final screening."
"The President? But this is a commercial gag!"