"Now, then, Mr. Untz," he said, "the first thing we must do is come to terms."
"Just a minute," said Harold. "I'm Mr. Untz's assistant, Harold Potter. Mr. Untz is in the shower. Was he expecting you?"
Dr. Mildume blinked. "No, not exactly. But he can't afford not to see me. I know all about it."
"All about what?" asked Harold.
"The beasts," the doctor said.
"Beasts, Potter," snapped the goat-like man. "The nightmare monsters. Get with it, lad. And what is a dream sequence without them? Ha!"
"Uh--yes," said Harold a little uncertainly.
Mildume's finger shot out. "You fellows understand that I'm no dreamy-eyed impractical scientist. Let's face it--it takes money to carry on experiments like mine. Good old-fashioned money. I'll need at least ten thousand dollars."
Harold raised his eyebrows. "Just what, Dr. Mildume, do you propose to give us for ten thousand dollars?"
"Beasts," said Mildume. "Real monsters."
"I beg your pardon?" said Harold. He began to work out strategies in his mind. Maybe he could casually walk over to the phone and pick it up quickly and call the studio police. Maybe he could get the jump on this madman before he pulled a knife. The thing to do was to humor him meanwhile....
Dr. Mildume said, "I will not deal with underlings. I demand to see Mr. Untz himself."
"Well," said Harold, "you understand that Mr. Untz is a busy man. It's my job to check propositions people have for him. Suppose you tell me about these beasts of yours."
Mildume shrugged. "Doubt if you'll understand it any better than Untz will. But it's no more complicated than television when you boil it right down. You're familiar, I take it, with the basic principle of television?"
"Oh, sure," said Harold, brightening. "Keep things moving. Have a master of ceremonies who keeps jumping in and out of the act. Give something away to the audience, if possible, to make them feel ashamed not to tune in."
"No, no, no, no, no!" said Mildume. "I mean the technical principles. A photo-electric beam scans the subject, translates light and dark into electrical impulses, which eventually alter a cathode ray played upon a fluorescent screen. Hence, the image. You grasp that roughly, I take it?"
"Roughly," said Harold.
"Well," continued Mildume, "just as spots of light and dark are the building blocks of an image, so sub-atomic particles are the building blocks of matter. Once we recognize this the teleportation theory becomes relatively simple. There are engineering difficulties, of course.
"We must go back to Faraday's three laws of electrolysis--and Chadwick's establishment in nineteen thirty-one of the fact that radiation is merely the movement of particles of proton mass without proton charge. Neutrons, you see. Also that atomic weights are close integers, when hydrogen is one point zero zero eight. Thus I use hydrogen as a basis. Simple, isn't it?"
Harold frowned. "Wait a minute. What's this you're talking about--teleportation? You mean a way of moving matter through space, just as television moves an image through space?"
"Well, not precisely," said Mildume. "It's more a duplication of matter. My Mildume beam--really another expression of the quanta or light energy absorbed by atoms--scans and analyzes matter. The wave variations are retranslated into form, or formulae, at a distant point--the receiving point."
Harold lowered one eyebrow. "And this really works?"
"Of course," said Mildume. "Oh, it's still crude. It doesn't work all the time. It works only along vast distances. I won't announce it until I perfect it further. Meanwhile I need more money to carry on and when, through certain relatives, I heard of Mr. Untz's problem--well, it was simply too much to resist. You see, I've managed to teleport a couple of frightful monsters from somewhere out of space. I was wondering what on earth to do with them."
"Where--where are they?" asked Harold.
"In my back yard," said Dr. Mildume.
At that point Mr. Maximilian Untz abruptly reappeared. He smelled of lotion and he was now dressed in a relatively conservative gabardine of forest green with a lavender shirt and a black knitted tie.
"Hello," he said. He looked at Mildume. "So who is this?"
"He says he has monsters for the dream sequence in his back yard," explained Harold. "Real ones."
"Look," said Mr. Untz, "kindly ask the gentleman to get lost, will you, Harold?"
"No, wait," Harold said. "He may have something. He explained some of it to me. It sounds almost possible. We can't lose much by taking a look."
"Only a few thousand dollars a minute," said Mr. Untz.
"Bah--money!" said Dr. Mildume. "Which reminds me--these monsters of mine are going to cost you. Let's have that understood, right now."
Mr. Untz's eyebrows went up. This kind of talk he understood. He reached into the side pocket of the gabardine for his cigarette case. He kept a separate gold case in each suit.
"Yeeeeow!" said Mr. Untz.
His hand came out of the pocket with a small green snake in it.
"Drop it! Stand back!" said Harold, being cool.
"Don't worry about it," said Dr. Mildume in a calmer voice. He was blinking mildly at the snake. "It's merely an ordinary species of garden snake, sometimes erroneously called garter snake. Curious it should be there."
Harold looked at Dr. Mildume sharply. "This teleportation of yours wouldn't have anything to do with it by any chance?"
"Of course not," snapped Mildume.
"I know how it got here!" said Mr. Untz, his jowls trembling. He had already dropped the snake. "A certain child star whose initials are Jimsy LaRoche! Last week he gives me a hotfoot. Monday a wet seat--soaked newspapers in my chair under one thin dry one. Yesterday a big frog in my shower. I should take that brat over my knee and spank him to his face!"
"Mm--ah--of course," said Dr. Mildume without much interest in the topic. "Shall we go to inspect the monsters now?"
Mr. Untz thought it over, only long enough to keep himself within the time limits of a Man of Decision. Then he said, "Okay, so we'll go now."
They passed Jimsy LaRoche on the way out. He was drinking pineapple juice and sitting with his tutor, studying his lines. He smirked as Mr. Untz passed. Mr. Untz scowled back but didn't say anything. In Jovian silence he led the way to his car.
It turned out to be a longer ride than they had expected. Dr. Mildume lived in Twenty-nine Palms and, as Mr. Untz explained it, this was too short for an airplane and too long for an automobile. Mr. Untz was not in his best humor when they stopped before Dr. Mildume's stucco and tile-roof house.
Mildume directed them immediately to a walled-in patio in the rear of the place. A shed-roof covered one side of the patio and under it were racks of equipment. Harold recognized banks of relays, power amplifiers, oscillographs and some other familiar devices. There were also some strange ones.
Mildume waved his long fingers at all of it. "My teleportation set-up is entirely too bulky so far for practical use, as you can see."
"Nph," said Mr. Untz, eyeing it. During the drive Dr. Mildume and Harold had explained more to him about teleportation and the monsters and he was more doubtful than ever about the whole thing. "So let's see the monsters," he said now. "Time is fleeing."
Mildume went in his hopping step across the patio to a huge tarpaulin that covered something square and bulky. He worried the tarpaulin away. Two steel cages stood there.
"Sacred carp!" said Mr. Untz.
Two somethings were in the steel cages.
They were both iridescent greenish-gray in color, they had globular bodies, no discernible heads and eyes on stalks growing from their bodies. Three eyes apiece. If they were eyes--anyway, they looked like eyes. Sweeping fibrillae came down to the ground and seemed to serve as feet. Great saw-toothed red gashes in the middle of each body might have been mouths.
"They're--they're real. They're alive!" said Harold Potter hoarsely. That was the thing about them. They had the elusive quality of life about them--and of course they were thus infinitely more terrifying than the prop department's fake monsters.
"They're alive all right," said Dr. Mildume chattily. "Took me quite a bit of experimenting to discover what to feed them. They like glass--broken glass. They're evidently a silicon rather than a carbon form of life."
"This I'll buy," said Mr. Untz, still staring.
"Of course," said Mildume. "I knew you would. They will cost you exactly ten thousand dollars per day. Per twenty-four hour period."
"Profiteer--burglar!" said Mr. Untz, glaring at Mildume.
There was an abrupt, high-pitched squeak. Harold stared at the monsters. The smaller one was quivering.
"They do that when they're angry," Dr. Mildume said. "Some sort of skin vibration. This smaller one here seems to take the initiative in things. Must be a male. Unless there's female dominance, as in birds of prey, wherever these things come from. I've--uh--been unable to ascertain which is which, if any."
Mr. Untz frowned suddenly. "Look--just how dangerous are these things?"
"Don't know exactly," said Dr. Mildume. "A pigeon got too near the cages the other day. They seemed to enjoy it. Although, as I say, their staple appears to be silicon forms. I carelessly set a Weston analyzer too near them the other day and they had it for lunch."
"If they're too dangerous ..." began Mr. Untz.
"What if they are?" said Mildume. "You make pictures with wild lions and tigers and alligators, don't you? Seems to me you can find a way. I don't recommend letting them out of the cage however."
Mr. Untz nodded and said, "Well, maybe we can get Etienne Flaubert to do something with them. He's the animal trainer we call on. Anyway Untz always figures something out. Only that's why I like musicals better. There isn't so much to figure out and you can play Victor Herbert backwards and get new tunes out of him. So anyway, we'll get a truck and get these monsters to the studio right away."
It was arranged. It was arranged with utmost secrecy too. There were other studios, after all, and in spite of their wealth of creative talent it was easier to steal an idea than cook up a new one. Atom bomb secrecy descended upon the Crusader Pictures lot and most especially upon Sound Stage Six, where the dream sequence for the psychological thriller, "Jolt!" was being filmed.
Even Jimsy LaRoche, the star of the picture, was excluded from the big barn-like stage. Mr. Untz prepared to get his first stock shots of the beasts.
There were gasps and much popping of eyebrows when Dr. Mildume--who had come along as technical adviser--removed the tarpaulins from the cages. The cameramen, the grips, the electricians, the sound men--all stared unbelievingly. The script girl grabbed Mr. Untz's hand and dug her fingernails into it. The makeup stylist clutched the lapels of his mauve jacket and fainted.
"Nothing to be afraid of," Mr. Untz said to everybody. He was sort of convincing himself too. "Dr. Mildume here knows all about the monsters. He's got everything under control. So tell everybody about them, Doctor."
Mildume nodded, bobbing his short white beard. He thrust his hands into his tweed jacket, looked all around for a moment, then said, "I don't know exactly where the monsters are from. I had my Q-beam pointed into space, and I was focussing it, intending to put it on Mars at the time of proper conjunction. All very complicated. However the beam must have worked prematurely. These monsters began to form in the hydrogen chamber."
Several of the listeners looked at other listeners with unmistakable doubt. Unruffled, Dr. Mildume went on, "Now, we can make certain rough assumptions from the form and structure of these monsters. You will notice that except for their appendages they are globularly formed. Any engineer can tell you that the arch and hemisphere sustain the greatest weight for their mass.
"We may concede that they come from a planet of very strong gravity. Their skin, for instance, is tough and rigid compared with ours. They have difficulty staying rooted to earth--often a simple multipod movement will send them bouncing to the top of the cage. There is one other factor--the smaller of these creatures seems the more dominant--suggesting that on their home planet smaller beings are more agile and therefore better able to take care of themselves."
"There, you see?" interrupted Mr. Untz, slipping into a pause. "That's all there is to it. So now let us please get down to business."
So they got down to business. And it was not easy business, photographing these monsters. Keeping the cage wires out of focus required a critical distance for each lens but whenever a camera came too near a fibrilla would shoot forward--at the glass, no doubt--and scare the wits out of the cameramen.
The shorter lenses got too much of the surrounding area into the picture. The crew tried and tried. One technician muttered darkly that the organization contract didn't cover this sort of thing. Mr. Untz pleaded and cajoled and heckled and moved about and tried to keep things going. Somehow, anyhow.
Eddie Tamoto, the chief cameraman, finally came up to him and said, "It's no use, Max. These cages simply don't allow us to do anything. Why don't we put them in the cages they use for jungle pictures? They're big and camouflaged, and the mesh size is right."
"So maybe we'll have to do that," said Mr. Untz.
Dr. Mildume dipped his head. "I don't know. I'd like to see these other cages first."
"Look," said Mr. Untz. "Don't worry about it. If they hold lions they will hold your whatever-you-call-thems. I'll get the animal trainer, Flaubert, to stand by. He practically talks to animals--except horses, which is his hard luck."
The jungle cages were duly summoned and so was Etienne Flaubert of the Golden West Animal Education Studios on Sunset Boulevard. While they waited Mr. Untz stood aside with Harold Potter. He mopped his brow--he gestured at the whole group. "This," he said, "is the story of my life."
"It is?" asked Harold.
Mr. Untz nodded. "Me, I am an expert on musicals. Musicals I can do with my left hand. But ever since I am in Hollywood I do everything but a musical. And always something gets fouled up. Always there is trouble. You will not believe this, Harold, but I am an unhappy man."
"I believe it," said Harold.
Mr. Untz looked at him sharply and said, "You don't have to believe it so quickly. You could give me a chance to explain."
"Look," said Harold--now being truly interested and forgetting some of the first principles of buttering-up one's boss, "take the scientific attitude. Everything is relative."
"Yes," said Mr. Untz, "In Hollywood everything is relatives, believe me."
"No, no--I wasn't referring to nepotism," said Harold. "I was thinking that you and many others, of course, prefer musicals. But there are vast other groups who prefer westerns, detectives, comedies or what have you. One man's meat is another's poison.
"But nourishment stays the same in principle. The artistic demands still hold and a good picture is a picture, whatever its field. Now, if you, as a producer, can shift to the other fellow's viewpoint--find out why the thing that terrifies you amuses him--or vice versa."
"Harold," said Mr. Untz, not without suspicion, "are you an assistant producer or a philosopher?"
"Sometimes to be the one," sighed Harold, "you have to be the other."
The big jungle cage arrived presently. While it was being set up another assistant came to Mr. Untz and said, "Jimsy LaRoche is outside, yelling to get in, Mr. Untz."
Mr. Untz whirled on the assistant and said, "Tell that overpaid brat--who I personally didn't want in my picture in the first place--tell him in the second place the President of the United States could not get in here this afternoon. No, wait a minute, that wouldn't mean anything to him--he makes more money than the President. Just tell him no."
"Yes, sir," said the assistant. He left.
About then the animal trainer, Etienne Flaubert, was admitted. He walked right up to Mr. Untz. Flaubert was nearly seven feet tall. He had tremendous shoulders and none of it was coat padding. He had a chest one might have gone over Niagara Falls in. He had a huge golden beard. When he spoke it sounded like the bass viol section of the Los Angeles Symphony tuning up.
He said to Mr. Untz, "Where are these monsters I hear about? I'd like to see the monster that isn't just a big kitty, like all the rest. Big kitties, that's all they are. You gotta know how to handle them."
Mr. Untz led Flaubert to the cage and said, "There."
Flaubert gasped. Then he steadied himself. The monsters had been maneuvered into the bigger cage by now--Dr. Mildume had enticed them with broken electric light bulbs and slammed the drop-doors behind them by a remote-control rope. They had finished their meal of glass. They were curled in a corner of the cage now, tentacles wrapped about each other, squeaking contentedly.
Flaubert recovered a bit.
"Kitties, just big kitties," he growled.