Everyone in the room looked up abruptly at her cry, and so were just in time to see a horrifying change take place in Martin's shape. It was an illusion, of course, but an alarming one. His knees slowly bent until he was half-crouching, his shoulders slumped as though bowed by the weight of enormous back and shoulder muscles, and his arms swung forward until their knuckles hung perilously near the floor.
Nicholas Martin had at last achieved a personality whose ecological norm would put him on a level with Raoul St. Cyr.
"Nick!" Erika quavered.
Slowly Martin's jaw protruded till his lower teeth were hideously visible. Gradually his eyelids dropped until he was peering up out of tiny, wicked sockets. Then, slowly, a perfectly shocking grin broadened Mr. Martin's mouth.
"Erika," he said throatily. "Mine!"
And with that, he shambled forward, seized the horrified girl in his arms, and bit her on the ear.
"Oh, Nick," Erika murmured, closing her eyes. "Why didn't you ever--no, no, no! Nick! Stop it! The contract release. We've got to--Nick, what are you doing?" She snatched at Martin's departing form, but too late.
For all his ungainly and unpleasant gait, Martin covered ground fast. Almost instantly he was clambering over Watt's desk as the most direct route to that startled tycoon. DeeDee looked on, a little surprised. St. Cyr lunged forward.
"In Mixo-Lydia--" he began. "Ha! So!" He picked up Martin and threw him across the room.
"Oh, you beast," Erika cried, and flung herself upon the director, beating at his brawny chest. On second thought, she used her shoes on his shins with more effect. St. Cyr, no gentleman, turned her around, pinioned her arms behind her, and glanced up at Watt's alarmed cry.
"Martin! What are you doing?"
There was reason for his inquiry. Apparently unhurt by St. Cyr's toss, Martin had hit the floor, rolled over and over like a ball, knocked down a floor-lamp with a crash, and uncurled, with an unpleasant expression on his face. He rose crouching, bandy-legged, his arms swinging low, a snarl curling his lips.
"You take my mate?" the pithecanthropic Mr. Martin inquired throatily, rapidly losing all touch with the twentieth century. It was a rhetorical question. He picked up the lamp-standard--he did not have to bend to do it--tore off the silk shade as he would have peeled foliage from a tree-limb, and balanced the weapon in his hand. Then he moved forward, carrying the lamp-standard like a spear.
"I," said Martin, "kill."
He then endeavored, with the most admirable single-heartedness, to carry out his expressed intention. The first thrust of the blunt, improvised spear rammed into St. Cyr's solar plexus and drove him back against the wall with a booming thud. This seemed to be what Martin wanted. Keeping one end of his spear pressed into the director's belly, he crouched lower, dug his toes into the rug, and did his very best to drill a hole in St. Cyr.
"Stop it!" cried Watt, flinging himself into the conflict. Ancient reflexes took over. Martin's arm shot out. Watt shot off in the opposite direction.
The lamp broke.
Martin looked pensively at the pieces, tentatively began to bite one, changed his mind, and looked at St. Cyr instead. The gasping director, mouthing threats, curses and objections, drew himself up, and shook a huge fist at Martin.
"I," he announced, "shall kill you with my bare hands. Then I go over to MGM with DeeDee. In Mixo-Lydia--"
Martin lifted his own fists toward his face. He regarded them. He unclenched them slowly, while a terrible grin spread across his face. And then, with every tooth showing, and with the hungry gleam of a mad tiger in his tiny little eyes, he lifted his gaze to St. Cyr's throat.
Mammoth-Slayer was not the son of the Great Hairy One for nothing.
So did St. Cyr--in another direction, screaming with sudden terror. For, after all, he was only a medievalist. The feudal man is far more civilized than the so-called man of Mammoth-Slayer's primordially direct era, and as a man recoils from a small but murderous wildcat, so St. Cyr fled in sudden civilized horror from an attacker who was, literally, afraid of nothing.
He sprang through the window and, shrieking, vanished into the night.
Martin was taken by surprise. When Mammoth-Slayer leaped at an enemy, the enemy leaped at him too, and so Martin's head slammed against the wall with disconcerting force. Dimly he heard diminishing, terrified cries. Laboriously he crawled to his feet and set back against the wall, snarling, quite ready....
"Nick!" Erika's voice called. "Nick, it's me! Stop it! Stop it! DeeDee--"
"Ugh?" Martin said thickly, shaking his head. "Kill." He growled softly, blinking through red-rimmed little eyes at the scene around him. It swam back slowly into focus. Erika was struggling with DeeDee near the window.
"You let me go," DeeDee cried. "Where Raoul goes, I go."
"DeeDee!" pleaded a new voice. Martin glanced aside to see Tolliver Watt crumpled in a corner, a crushed lamp-shade half obscuring his face.
With a violent effort Martin straightened up. Walking upright seemed unnatural, somehow, but it helped submerge Mammoth-Slayer's worst instincts. Besides, with St. Cyr gone, stresses were slowly subsiding, so that Mammoth-Slayer's dominant trait was receding from the active foreground.
Martin tested his tongue cautiously, relieved to find he was still capable of human speech.
"Uh," he said. "Arrgh ... ah. Watt."
Watt blinked at him anxiously through the lamp-shade.
"Urgh ... Ur--release," Martin said, with a violent effort. "Contract release. Gimme."
Watt had courage. He crawled to his feet, removing the lamp-shade.
"Contract release!" he snapped. "You madman! Don't you realize what you've done? DeeDee's walking out on me. DeeDee, don't go. We will bring Raoul back--"
"Raoul told me to quit if he quit," DeeDee said stubbornly.
"You don't have to do what St. Cyr tells you," Erika said, hanging onto the struggling star.
"Don't I?" DeeDee asked, astonished. "Yes, I do. I always have."
"DeeDee," Watt said frantically, "I'll give you the finest contract on earth--a ten-year contract--look, here it is." He tore out a well-creased document. "All you have to do is sign, and you can have anything you want. Wouldn't you like that?"
"Oh, yes," DeeDee said. "But Raoul wouldn't like it." She broke free from Erika.
"Martin!" Watt told the playwright frantically, "Get St. Cyr back. Apologize to him. I don't care how, but get him back! If you don't, I--I'll never give you your release."
Martin was observed to slump slightly--perhaps with hopelessness. Then, again, perhaps not.
"I'm sorry," DeeDee said. "I liked working for you, Tolliver. But I have to do what Raoul says, of course." And she moved toward the window.
Martin had slumped further down, till his knuckles quite brushed the rug. His angry little eyes, glowing with baffled rage, were fixed on DeeDee. Slowly his lips peeled back, exposing every tooth in his head.
"You," he said, in an ominous growl.
DeeDee paused, but only briefly.
Then the enraged roar of a wild beast reverberated through the room. "You come back!" bellowed the infuriated Mammoth-Slayer, and with one agile bound sprang to the window, seized DeeDee and slung her under one arm. Wheeling, he glared jealously at the shrinking Watt and reached for Erika. In a trice he had the struggling forms of both girls captive, one under each arm. His wicked little eyes glanced from one to another. Then, playing no favorites, he bit each quickly on the ear.
"Nick!" Erika cried. "How dare you!"
"Mine," Mammoth-Slayer informed her hoarsely.
"You bet I am," Erika said, "but that works both ways. Put down that hussy you've got under your other arm."
Mammoth-Slayer was observed to eye DeeDee doubtfully.
"Well," Erika said tartly, "make up your mind."
"Both," said the uncivilized playwright. "Yes."
"No!" Erika said.
"Yes," DeeDee breathed in an entirely new tone. Limp as a dishrag, the lovely creature hung from Martin's arm and gazed up at her captor with idolatrous admiration.
"Oh, you hussy," Erika said. "What about St. Cyr?"
"Him," DeeDee said scornfully. "He hasn't got a thing, the sissy. I'll never look at him again." She turned her adoring gaze back to Martin.
"Pah," the latter grunted, tossing DeeDee into Watt's lap. "Yours. Keep her." He grinned approvingly at Erika. "Strong she. Better."
Both Watt and DeeDee remained motionless, staring at Martin.
"You," he said, thrusting a finger at DeeDee. "You stay with him. Ha?" He indicated Watt.
DeeDee nodded in slavish adoration.
"You sign contract?"
Martin looked significantly into Watt's eyes. He extended his hand.
"The contract release," Erika explained, upside-down. "Give it to him before he pulls your head off."
Slowly Watt pulled the contract release from his pocket and held it out. But Martin was already shambling toward the window. Erika reached back hastily and snatched the document.
"That was a wonderful act," she told Nick, as they reached the street. "Put me down now. We can find a cab some--"
"No act," Martin growled. "Real. Till tomorrow. After that--" He shrugged. "But tonight, Mammoth-Slayer." He attempted to climb a palm tree, changed his mind, and shambled on, carrying the now pensive Erika. But it was not until a police car drove past that Erika screamed....
"I'll bail you out tomorrow," Erika told Mammoth-Slayer, struggling between two large patrolmen.
Her words were drowned in an infuriated bellow.
Thereafter events blurred, to solidify again for the irate Mammoth-Slayer only when he was thrown in a cell, where he picked himself up with a threatening roar. "I kill!" he announced, seizing the bars.
"Two in one night," said a bored voice, moving away outside. "Both in Bel-Air, too. Think they're hopped up? We couldn't get a coherent story out of either one."
The bars shook. An annoyed voice from one of the bunks said to shut up, and added that there had been already enough trouble from nincompoops without--here it paused, hesitated, and uttered a shrill, sharp, piercing cry.
Silence prevailed, momentarily, in the cell-block as Mammoth-Slayer, son of the Great Hairy One, turned slowly to face Raoul St. Cyr.
THE GREAT POTLATCH RIOTS.
By Allen Kim Lang
Oh, leave it to the bureaucrats and they'll figure out new ways to make you buy more and more.... But there was only one way the poor consumer could rise up in his wrath.
"I've sweated for months over the plans for this campaign," Captain Wesley Winfree told the Major. "Just nod, sir; that's all I ask; and I'll throw my forces into the field."
"I admire your audacity, Winfree," Major Stanley Dampfer said, "but don't you think we'd be wise to consolidate our current positions before launching a fresh offensive?"
Captain Winfree, straight in his scarlet-trimmed winter greens, tapped the toe of one boot with his swagger-stick. "With all respect, sir," he said, "I feel that if we do no more than hold the line, we're lending moral comfort to the foes of prosperity. Attack! That's my battle-plan, sir. Attack! And attack again!"
Major Dampfer, seated behind Winfree's desk, stretched out his legs and sighed. "You younger officers, men who've never in your lives tasted defeat, are an inspiration and a trial to us old field-graders," he said. "Captain, a project that failed could set your District back fifteen years."
"I realize that, sir," Winfree said. "I'm placing my career in the balance. If I attempt this, and goof, ship me to the sticks, Major. I'd rather spend the rest of my BSG years as a corporal, a simple Potlatch Observer in a downstate village, than never to have embarked on this campaign."
"Young Napoleon must have been very like you, Winfree," Major Dampfer mused. "Very well, lad. Brief me."
"Yes, sir!" Captain Winfree marched over to the giant calendar that covered one wall of his office and tapped his stick against the three dates circled in red. "We've established this triangle of strong-points," he said. "We control the second Sunday in May and the third Sunday in June in addition to our first and most vital holding, the twenty-fifth of December. I regard these three victories, sir, as only beachheads, only the softening-up phases of a still greater campaign. We must press on toward Total Prosperity."
"How, Winfree?" Major Dampfer asked.
"By adding three hundred and sixty-two days a year to our laurels, sir," Winfree said, sweeping his swagger-stick across the face of the calendar. "My plan is to make every consumer's birthday a Gratuity Day for each of his Nearest-and-Dearest."
Major Dampfer sat up straight. "Captain," he said softly, "this is Thinking Big. This could lend billions a year to the Gross National Product. It could mean a major break-through on the Prosperity front. Are you really proposing that each consumer be required to give birthday presents to the same people, and on the same scale, as he now gives Xmas Gratuities?"
"Precisely, sir," Captain Winfree said. "My staff has in the files the birthdate of every consumer in the District. Enforcement of the new quotas I propose will be no more difficult than the old: the same scale of fines for non-compliance, the same terms of imprisonment for repeated offenses will be imposed. The dates-of-destruction to be marked on Birthday Gratuities will be set as the next Potlatch Day, plus one year. Merchandise will be marked with the year-date precisely as is now done for Xmas, Dad's Day, and Mom's Day gifts. Birthday-cards will be addressed and sent from this office, just like Xmas cards."