"Ah guess," Robina said. She cast a sheepish glance at her brother. "Say Jason, how did the feelie end up?"
Jason was indignant. "Now listen, Robee, ain't you had enough? You heard the doc say that last was like to kill you."
"Please, Jason, there's nothin' wrong with you jus' tellin' me."
"It's almost as bad. You still get yourself all flittered up."
"That's because nobody can tell a story like you do, the way you act it out an' all."
"Ah don't act it out. Ah jus' tell it."
"Well you might call it tellin' but everybody home says it's jus' like a feelie when you do it. An' don't pretend you don't know it, brother Jay, an' enjoy it too!"
Jason did not tell the ending of the feelie; he recreated it. He was the monster slurching across the floor toward her, step by scraping step and in spite of her fist on her mouth a tiny nervous scream escaped Robina. Jason wanted to stop then but she badgered him into continuing. Now he was the hero, Gregg Mason, battling the unspeakable fiend and she shivered uncontrollably as she watched them struggle to the death. In a last, desperate, superhuman effort, Gregg's hands clawed into the monster's body and ripped out the foul, quivering heart of it. The creature twisted to the ground and perished in its own slime. Gregg, torn and bleeding and with shock-frozen eyes, turned and staggered into the arms of Robina.
"Oh, Gregg, Gregg," Robina cried in relief, the tears streaming down her face.
"It's okay, Joan," he said comforting her, "okay. It's all over now. C'mon now, Joan, get out from behind those tears so you can see how much Ah love you. Everything's all right."
"Oh, Gregg!" A weak smile broke through.
Gregg enfolded Joan in his arms and pressed his mouth against her eager lips.
"What are you two doing?!!" a shocked voice exclaimed from the open door.
Gregg and Joan were blown away by the sound like spindrift before the wind. Jason and Robina slowly came apart to see Mr. Lemson and another man coming into the room.
"What is the matter with you both?" Mr. Lemson spoke again. "Aren't you in enough trouble now?"
"Let me handle this, Cy," the other man said stepping forward. "I'm Bob Herschell," he said smiling and radiating friendliness at the youngsters. "Would you please tell me exactly what you were doing before we came in here?"
"Weren't doin' nothin'," Jason said belligerently.
"Shades of the decadent South!" Lemson exclaimed. "Brother and sister glued together and he calls it nothin'."
"Ah wasn't kissin' her like you think," Jason said hotly. "Ah was tellin' her a story."
"What kind of a story?" Herschell asked excitedly.
"Ah was tellin' her the end of the feelie we saw; Ah mean Ah saw. She didn't get to see it."
"You mean Terror From Mars?" Herschell asked.
"Ah guess that's it. Ah don't recollect the title for certain."
"Great!" Lemson said. "It often takes a week long conference to select a feelie title and this typical American youth can't remember the name of the feelie he lived less than a hour ago."
"How were you telling it?" Herschell asked.
"Ah jus' told it."
"He storytells fine," Robina said proudly. "He sorta acts it out with feelin' an' really makes it seem like it's happenin' to you right then and there."
Herschell turned to Lemson. "I'm sure he's the one, Cy. It fits. I've got the spark of an idea and if it works then U-Live-It will be right on top of the feelie heap."
"We're already on top," Lemson said wearily. "U-Live-It is the biggest producer of feelies and I think you're crazy, I think they're both insane and I will be if you don't tell me what this is all about. You come barging into my office--"
"Sorry, Cy, but this thing happened so fast. I'm in my office right below you. I've got Myra Shane doing a reading, trying to convince her the part is perfect for her. But she isn't coming through on the receptor. Instead I'm getting the climax of Terror From Mars. Zack is receptorman and it takes him less than no time to check through and okay our electronics. That means only one thing. Someone, somehow, is blotting us with another projection. I call around and no one is running a projector and no one is reading. Your girl tells me you have a couple of kids up there so I come up to see. And I'm sure that big rebel is the one! He has to be!"
Lemson was alert with interest. "But he's not wearing a relay. How could the receptor pick up and record his perceptics?"
"He might have a surgical." Herschell inquired of Jason, "Did you ever have an operation for the insertion of an encephalic booster relay! you know, a thought relay?"
"You mean them tiny transistor things that feelie actors have stuck in their heads?"
"No, Ah never had nothin' like that," Jason said, baffled.
"That's impossible," Lemson said, "no one can project with enough natural power to imprint a receptor unless they've got a booster."
"Well it's not impossible anymore," Herschell said gleefully. "Look Cy, you squash this silly business about the permit. I want this fella to make a receptor test as soon as possible. When his folks show up tell them we might want to make a feelie star out of their son but don't build it up or they'll be back with a regiment of lawyers and contracts."
"Bob, you're going off the deep end with this deal. So what if he can project au naturel? Can he act?"
"If you had been plugged into the receptor like I was a few minutes ago and felt him, you wouldn't even ask."
"What about that atrocious accent?"
"Look, Cy, I'll abide by the receptor test. If he can't act; out! If he's as terrific as I think he is we'll put him in westerns and civil war feelies until we can train the accent out of him. Cy, if he doesn't turn out to be the greatest thing that hit the feelie business I'll eat my contract."
Five months later Herschell came beaming into Lemson's office and tossed an open-folded newspaper at him. "Cy, did you read Lorancelli's review of Rowe's oatburner?"
"That's just great!" Lemson snapped. "We spend millions of advertising and publicity dollars to convince people that we make adult westerns and you, a production vice president, go around calling them oatburners."
"Okay, Cy, but read the review. He rated the feelie so so but he raves about Jason Rowe."
Lemson picked up the paper and had it immediately snatched out of his hands by an impatient Herschell who began reading snatches of it. "Listen ... uh ... Jason Rowe is an intense young man whose magnificent talent is wasted in the role of a young gunfighter in this bland western ... uh ... he projects a sense of immediacy and aliveness endless in its delicate ramifications of feeling. His characterization is unmarred by even the slightest hint of extraneous awareness and unaccompanied by the usual continual subliminal blur which is the mark of the receptorman's frantic deletion of the actor's sublevel, irrelevant thoughts. Either Mr. Rowe is fortunate to be blessed with a most superiorly skilled receptorman or he is gifted with an awesome ability to submerge his total being in the role he plays. In this feelie it is as if Mr. Rowe, the actor, dies and imparts only his life force to the character of the cocky youngster who comes fully alive without the slightest trace of the personality of Jason Rowe. In this debut performance young Rowe achieves the hitherto unattainable goal of completely displacing the feeliegoer's identity with that of the character he portrays. We expect great things from him for a talent such as his illumines the theater but once in a millennium. Thanks to Mr. Jason Rowe, the U-Live-It Corporation can now completely guarantee the promise of its name." Herschell dropped the newspaper on the desk. "How do you like that, Cy?"
"I like it so well, I surrender," Lemson said with a pleased smile. "You were right all along in pushing him so we'll put him in 'Land' as you want and I'll at last have you off my back."
"Y'know, Cy, Lorancelli is wrong about the receptorman."
"He didn't exactly say--"
"Oh Zack is the best there is," Herschell interrupted, "but right after we started recording the Rowe feelie he came in all shook up to see me. Said the Rowe stuff was recording as if he was actually living the part. There were no extraneous sublevels at all and that's just never happened before. It's like Lorancelli says about Rowe dying and the character coming to life. Zack swears that Rowe just disappears. There isn't a speck of him that shows on the strip."
"Then Zack should be happy, not having to over-engineer the recording."
"Oh now, it isn't all breeze. There's highlighting and emphasizing selected perceptics and such. You know Zack's the difference between the artist and the photographer. Actually Zack's real difficulty is the battle he has to keep from getting completely sucked in to Rowe's portrayal while he's recording. Don't misunderstand. He's not complaining. In fact when I suggested relieving him if the strain was too much he said if he couldn't do Rowe's feelies I could relieve him from the payroll. It's that much of a challenge for him. So much so, he's designed a new receptor adaptor to prevent Rowe's potency from overpowering him."
"Will there be any trouble in making 'Land'?"
"Yes," Herschell said bleakly as Lemson prepared to hear the worst, "we need horses. In this atom age I'd like to know where I'm going to get a couple of divisions of cavalry."
"Why you can't even see where they put it," Robina said, fingering Jason's skull. "Oh, wait, Ah feel a little hard lump right here. Ah'm right ain't Ah? That's the relay."
"No it ain't," Jason said laughing. "Got that fallin' off a horse yesterday."
"But why do you have to have one at all? Ah thought you could project without it."
"Well Ah can, but this makes it better. This picks up all the tiny waves from mah brain that wouldn't otherwise get recorded. Like the difference between super high-fi an' ordinary high-fi. It makes the feelie more real."
"When are you goin' to be in somethin' else besides westerns? Ain't you ever goin' to get to do some romancin'?"
"Now don't you go lookin' at the wrong end of the hog, Robee. They been keepin' our bellies filled. Besides this one Ah'm doin' now ain't no western."
"Then what's all them horses over there for?"
"Confederate cavalry, you melon head. What you think this uniform is Ah'm wearin'? Fine southern daughter you are!"
"Oh, a civil war feelie! What's it called?"
"... uh ... A Stillness in the Land." Jason smiled, "An' it sure would make Mr. Lemson happy to know Ah remembered the title. They say it was a big best seller book. Goin' to cost ten million dollars. Ah play the lead; Jed Carter, young southern fella. Lots of love an' battles an' the best thing is Ah don't have to fret about mah accent." Jason took his sister's arm. "C'mon now if you want to see the set. Ah'll be havin' to go to work in a few minutes."
They passed by one of the receptors and Jason stopped. "Now here's the machine that picks up an' records what Ah'm thinkin' an' feelin'. The receptorman wears this gizmo on his head an' cuts in to what Ah'm feelin' an' he fiddles them dials an' switches an' amplifies weak signals an' cuts down overpowerin' ones an'--well, Ah don't want to frazzle you with the technical details; he jus' controls the quality of the recordin'. He cuts out stuff that don't belong like if Ah should be kissin' the gal an' somewhere under those passionate thoughts Ah might wonder when we're goin' to knock off for lunch. Here, slip this headset on an' Ah'll get Zack to run it so you can feel how it works."
"Don't do anythin' strong," Robina advised.
"Don't worry. Jus' a peaceful bit."
Zack came over at Jason's call and ran the receptor while Jason went through a few quiet lines with an extra.
"Why it's funny, somehow," Robina said after they removed the headset. "It jus' didn't seem very good. Ah've felt you better without it, Jason."
"You didn't get the full projection," Zack explained. "You see, Miss Rowe, the receptorman has got to be alert. He can't just relax and enjoy the scene and become the actor like a paying customer. He's got to work, keeping the perceptics, the feelings coming through in balance. So there's a circuit, a part of this machine that sort of shields enough of the operator's mind and keeps it from getting lost in the story while it runs the receptor and lets the other part live the scene."
"That sounds hard to do," Robina said.
"It takes training and special conditioning but the point is nobody connected with the production of a feelie ever gets to feel it in all its original depth as the feeliegoer does. Rushes are run at the lowest intensity so that the producers and directors can comment and plan changes as the strips are run. Even with projector intensity set high we can't totally submerge in the character's identity because that specially conditioned part of our minds won't submit."
"Well, you're still lucky," Robina said. "Ah'm a Sensitive and Ah'm not allowed to go to anythin' but silly old musicals an' some comedies. Ah can't even go to mah brother's feelies what with all the shootin' an' everythin'."
"EVERYBODY TO THEIR PLACES. RECORDING STARTS IN FIVE MINUTES." The announcement boomed throughout the vast set and a population of extras began to animate the streets with purposeful activity.
"Robee, honey, you'll have to go."
"Oh, Jay, can't Ah watch. Ah won't fuss around."
"'Tain't that. Nobody who ain't in the feelie can be in sight of any of the actors they're recordin'. Why if Ah was to walk down that street as Jed Carter and suddenly see you standin' over here in them men's pants--"
"These ain't men's pants!" Robina said indignantly. "These are ladies slacks."
"Ah know that but Jed Carter don't. All he knows is even a hussy wouldn't strut around like that. Tell you what. You go over there to where it says, Mrs. Hepple's Quality Boarding Home an' you can peek out the parlor window at the doin's. Ah guess they had noseybodies then too. Now get!"
Jason turned and hurried down the street, not bothering to glance after Robina. She had crossed the street and was passing a saloon when the omnipresent voice commanded her, "GIRL IN THE GREEN SLACKS GET OUT OF SIGHT." She became so flustered she dashed into the saloon doorway.
Jed Carter escorted the lady from Nashville down the plank sidewalk to her carriage. He was furious at her casual gay chatter mocking his churning desire for her. His glance caught a movement across the street and suddenly he went rigid with surprise and soft shock. A girl had come out of the saloon and the hussy was wearing men's trousers. His shock increased when he heard the delicate lady from Nashville say, "Oh, damn, who the hell is that?" and he was further startled to see an oddly dressed man wearing some sort of metal apparatus on his head follow the girl out of the saloon, gesticulating angrily at her.
"CUT!" the omnipresent voice commanded and now Jed Carter was utterly confused. The man wearing the metal apparatus crossed over to him and spoke. "Jason, please. You know the rules about visitors on the set. No one allowed during recording. Zack says we'll have to ask your sister to leave."
Jed Carter saw the townspeople just standing around staring in his direction. "What's goin' on?" he said to the odd man. "What are you talkin' about? Who are you?"
"Oh, oh," the man with the headset exclaimed, "here we go again." He made a signal with his hand and another man came running up. The man led Jason up the steps of the hotel and into the lobby with a promise to explain everything. He sat Jason in a chair. "Jason, Jason Rowe, Jason Rowe," the man's voice pulled at him. He kept repeating the name.
A minute later Zack came into the lobby. "Jason!"
"Hello Zack," Jason said.
"Oh, you're back with us," Zack said. He stared at Jason a long moment. "One of these days," he said with a wry grin, "you're not going to make it."
Bob Herschell came out of the magnificent crystal palace that was U-Live-It's New York feelie showcase and searched the garden plaza. "Cy! I thought I'd find you here wringing your hands."
"We should never have premiered cold like this," Lemson complained. "We should have at least had one private running for the reviewers. We wouldn't be dangling like this."
"Stop worrying, Cy. A first night lets the critics get caught up in the excitement. And even if they go sick and thumb down 'Land' it won't stand against the top power voodoo job the publicity gang is saturating the public with. And bigger than all the critics is Jason Rowe. He's filled six thousand couches in there with the biggest voluntary celebrity turnout for any preem."
"Jason Rowe," Lemson sighed, rolling supplicating eyes heavenward. "He jeopardized a ten million dollar feelie; almost gave me heart failure when he had that heart attack."
"Cy, for the sake of the studio don't let people hear you say that. It's not true! It wasn't a heart attack. He just played the death scene too fully. You know how deep he goes into a role. That's what makes him the world's greatest actor."
"I don't care what you call it," Lemson said heatedly, "the guy's heart stopped and it was only because of Zack's alertness that they got to him in time. He almost died. I don't want to be ghoulish about it, Bob, but the studio's putting a lot of time, money and sweat into making that boy a star--"