She gave me a disgusted look. "What do you think? To relieve the manpower shortage, naturally. There's more work than there are men. Now if the Major could just get hold of a couple of prosthetics, like this thing here, why, he could put them in the big installations. This one used to be an engineer or something, Vern said."
"Well ... like an engineer."
Amy shrugged. "So why couldn't we connect him up with the power station? It's been done. The Major knows that--he was in the Pentagon when they switched all the aircraft warning net over from computer to prosthetic control. So why couldn't we do the same thing with our power station and release forty men for other assignments? This thing could work day, night, Sundays--what's the difference when you're just a brain in a sardine can?"
She looked startled. "Oh. I forgot he was listening."
"No deal," I said.
She said: "A hundred and fifty thousand?"
A hundred and fifty thousand dollars. I considered that for a while. Arthur clattered warningly.
"Well," I temporized, "I'd have to be sure he was getting into good hands--"
The typewriter thrashed wildly. The sheet of paper fluttered out of the carriage. He'd used it up. Automatically I picked it up--it was covered with imprecations, self-pity and threats--and started to put a new one in.
"No," I said, bending over the typewriter, "I guess I couldn't sell him. It just wouldn't be right--"
That was my mistake; it was the wrong time for me to say that, because I had taken my eyes off her.
The room bent over and clouted me.
I half turned, not more than a fraction conscious, and I saw this Amy girl, behind me, with the shoe still in her hand, raised to give me another blackjacking on the skull.
The shoe came down, and it must have weighed more than it looked, and even the fractional bit of consciousness went crashing away.
I have to tell you about Vern Engdahl. We were all from the Sea Sprite, of course--me and Vern and even Arthur. The thing about Vern is that he was the lowest-ranking one of us all--only an electricians' mate third, I mean when anybody paid any attention to things like that--and yet he was pretty much doing the thinking for the rest of us. Coming to New York was his idea--he told us that was the only place we could get what we wanted.
Well, as long as we were carrying Arthur along with us, we pretty much needed Vern, because he was the one who knew how to keep the lash-up going. You've got no idea what kind of pumps and plumbing go into a prosthetic tank until you've seen one opened up. And, naturally, Arthur didn't want any breakdowns without somebody around to fix things up.
The Sea Sprite, maybe you know, was one of the old liquid-sodium-reactor subs--too slow for combat duty, but as big as a barn, so they made it a hospital ship. We were cruising deep when the missiles hit, and, of course, when we came up, there wasn't much for a hospital ship to do. I mean there isn't any sense fooling around with anybody who's taken a good deep breath of fallout.
So we went back to Newport News to see what had happened. And we found out what had happened. And there wasn't anything much to do except pay off the crew and let them go. But us three stuck together. Why not? It wasn't as if we had any families to go back to any more.
Vern just loved all this stuff--he'd been an Eagle Scout; maybe that had something to do with it--and he showed us how to boil drinking water and forage in the woods and all like that, because nobody in his right mind wanted to go near any kind of a town, until the cold weather set in, anyway. And it was always Vern, Vern, telling us what to do, ironing out our troubles.
It worked out, except that there was this one thing. Vern had bright ideas. But he didn't always tell us what they were.
So I wasn't so very surprised when I came to. I mean there I was, tied up, with this girl Amy standing over me, holding the gun like a club. Evidently she'd found out that there weren't any cartridges. And in a couple of minutes there was a knock on the door, and she yelled, "Come in," and in came Vern. And the man who was with him had to be somebody important, because there were eight or ten other men crowding in close behind.
I didn't need to look at the oak leaves on his shoulders to realize that here was the chief, the fellow who ran this town, the Major.
It was just the kind of thing Vern would do.
Vern said, with the look on his face that made strange officers wonder why this poor persecuted man had been forced to spend so much time in the brig: "Now, Major, I'm sure we can straighten all this out. Would you mind leaving me alone with my friend here for a moment?"
The Major teetered on his heels, thinking. He was a tall, youngish-bald type, with a long, worried, horselike face. He said: "Ah, do you think we should?"
"I guarantee there'll be no trouble, Major," Vern promised.
The Major pulled at his little mustache. "Very well," he said. "Amy, you come along."
"We'll be right here, Major," Vern said reassuringly, escorting him to the door.
"You bet you will," said the Major, and tittered. "Ah, bring that gun along with you, Amy. And be sure this man knows that we have bullets."
They closed the door. Arthur had been cowering in his suitcase, but now his eyestalk peeped out and the rattling and clattering from that typewriter sounded like the Battle of the Bulge.
I demanded: "Come on, Vern. What's this all about?"
Vern said: "How much did they offer you?"
Clatter-bang-BANG. I peeked, and Arthur was saying: WARNED YOU SAM THAT ENGDAHL WAS UP TO TRICKS PLEASE SAM PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE HIT HIM ON THE HEAD KNOCK HIM OUT HE MUST HAVE A GUN SO GET IT AND SHOOT OUR WAY OUT OF HERE "A hundred and fifty thousand dollars," I said.
Vern looked outraged. "I only got forty!"
Arthur clattered: VERN I APPEAL TO YOUR COMMON DECENCY WERE OLD SHIPMATES VERN REMEMBER ALL THE TIMES I "Still," Vern mused, "it's all common funds anyway, right? Arthur belongs to both of us."
I DONT DONT DONT REPEAT DONT BELONG TO ANYBODY BUT ME.
"That's true," I said grudgingly. "But I carried him, remember."
SAM WHATS THE MATTER WITH YOU Q Q I DONT LIKE THE EXPRESSION ON YOUR FACE LISTEN SAM YOU ARENT.
Vern said, "A hundred and fifty thousand, remember."
THINKING OF SELLING.
"And of course we couldn't get out of here," Vern pointed out. "They've got us surrounded."
ME TO THESE RATS Q Q SAM VERN PLEASE DONT SCARE ME.
I said, pointing to the fluttering paper in the rattling machine: "You're worrying our friend."
Vern shrugged impatiently.
I KNEW I SHOULDNT HAVE TRUSTED YOU, Arthur wept. THATS ALL I MEAN TO YOU EH Vern said: "Well, Sam? Let's take the cash and get this thing over with. After all, he will have the best of treatment."
It was a little like selling your sister into white slavery, but what else was there to do? Besides, I kind of trusted Vern.
"All right," I said.
What Arthur said nearly scorched the paper.
Vern helped pack Arthur up for moving. I mean it was just a matter of pulling the plugs out and making sure he had a fresh battery, but Vern wanted to supervise it himself. Because one of the little things Vern had up his sleeve was that he had found a spot for himself on the Major's payroll. He was now the official Prosthetic (Human) Maintenance Department Chief.
The Major said to me: "Ah, Dunlap. What sort of experience have you had?"
"In the Navy. Your friend Engdahl suggested you might want to join us here."
"Oh. I see what you mean." I shook my head. "Nothing that would do you any good, I'm afraid. I was a yeoman."
"Like a company clerk," I explained. "I mean I kept records and cut orders and made out reports and all like that."
"Company clerk!" The eyes in the long horsy face gleamed. "Ah, you're mistaken, Dunlap! Why, that's just what we need. Our morning reports are in foul shape. Foul! Come over to HQ. Lieutenant Bankhead will give you a lift."
I got an elbow in my ribs for that. It was that girl Amy, standing alongside me. "I," she said, "am Lieutenant Bankhead."
Well, I went along with her, leaving Engdahl and Arthur behind. But I must admit I wasn't sure of my reception.
Out in front of the hotel was a whole fleet of cars--three or four of them, at least. There was a big old Cadillac that looked like a gangsters' car--thick glass in the windows, tires that looked like they belonged on a truck. I was willing to bet it was bulletproof and also that it belonged to the Major. I was right both times. There was a little MG with the top down, and a couple of light trucks. Every one of them was painted bright orange, and every one of them had the star-and-bar of the good old United States Army on its side.
It took me back to old times--all but the unmilitary color. Amy led me to the MG and pointed.
"Sit," she said.
I sat. She got in the other side and we were off.
It was a little uncomfortable on account of I wasn't just sure whether I ought to apologize for making her take her clothes off. And then she tramped on the gas of that little car and I didn't think much about being embarrassed or about her black lace lingerie. I was only thinking about one thing--how to stay alive long enough to get out of that car.
See, what we really wanted was an ocean liner.
The rest of us probably would have been happy enough to stay in Lehigh County, but Arthur was getting restless.
He was a terrible responsibility, in a way. I suppose there were a hundred thousand people or so left in the country, and not more than forty or fifty of them were like Arthur--I mean if you want to call a man in a prosthetic tank a "person." But we all did. We'd got pretty used to him. We'd shipped together in the war--and survived together, as a few of the actual fighters did, those who were lucky enough to be underwater or high in the air when the ICBMs landed--and as few civilians did.
I mean there wasn't much chance for surviving, for anybody who happened to be breathing the open air when it happened. I mean you can do just so much about making a "clean" H-bomb, and if you cut out the long-life fission products, the short-life ones get pretty deadly.
Anyway, there wasn't much damage, except of course that everybody was dead. All the surface vessels lost their crews. All the population of the cities were gone. And so then, when Arthur slipped on the gangplank coming into Newport News and broke his fool neck, why, we had the whole staff of the Sea Sprite to work on him. I mean what else did the surgeons have to do?
Of course, that was a long time ago.
But we'd stayed together. We headed for the farm country around Allentown, Pennsylvania, because Arthur and Vern Engdahl claimed to know it pretty well. I think maybe they had some hope of finding family or friends, but naturally there wasn't any of that. And when you got into the inland towns, there hadn't been much of an attempt to clean them up. At least the big cities and the ports had been gone over, in some spots anyway, by burial squads. Although when we finally decided to move out and went to Philadelphia-- Well, let's be fair; there had been fighting around there after the big fight. Anyway, that wasn't so very uncommon. That was one of the reasons that for a long time--four or five years, at any rate--we stayed away from big cities.
We holed up in a big farmhouse in Lehigh County. It had its own generator from a little stream, and that took care of Arthur's power needs; and the previous occupants had been just crazy about stashing away food. There was enough to last a century, and that took care of the two of us. We appreciated that. We even took the old folks out and gave them a decent burial. I mean they'd all been in the family car, so we just had to tow it to a gravel pit and push it in.
The place had its own well, with an electric pump and a hot-water system--oh, it was nice. I was sorry to leave but, frankly, Arthur was driving us nuts.
We never could make the television work--maybe there weren't any stations near enough. But we pulled in a couple of radio stations pretty well and Arthur got a big charge out of listening to them--see, he could hear four or five at a time and I suppose that made him feel better than the rest of us.
He heard that the big cities were cleaned up and every one of them seemed to want immigrants--they were pleading, pleading all the time, like the TV-set and vacuum-cleaner people used to in the old days; they guaranteed we'd like it if we only came to live in Philly, or Richmond, or Baltimore, or wherever. And I guess Arthur kind of hoped we might find another pross. And then--well, Engdahl came up with this idea of an ocean liner.
It figured. I mean you get out in the middle of the ocean and what's the difference what it's like on land? And it especially appealed to Arthur because he wanted to do some surface sailing. He never had when he was real--I mean when he had arms and legs like anybody else. He'd gone right into the undersea service the minute he got out of school.
And--well, sailing was what Arthur knew something about and I suppose even a prosthetic man wants to feel useful. It was like Amy said: He could be hooked up to an automated factory-- Or to a ship.
HQ for the Major's Temporary Military Government--that's what the sign said--was on the 91st floor of the Empire State Building, and right there that tells you something about the man. I mean you know how much power it takes to run those elevators all the way up to the top? But the Major must have liked being able to look down on everybody else.
Amy Bankhead conducted me to his office and sat me down to wait for His Military Excellency to arrive. She filled me in on him, to some degree. He'd been an absolute nothing before the war; but he had a reserve commission in the Air Force, and when things began to look sticky, they'd called him up and put him in a Missile Master control point, underground somewhere up around Ossining.
He was the duty officer when it happened, and naturally he hadn't noticed anything like an enemy aircraft, and naturally the anti-missile missiles were still rusting in their racks all around the city; but since the place had been operating on sealed ventilation, the duty complement could stay there until the short half-life radioisotopes wore themselves out.
And then the Major found out that he was not only in charge of the fourteen men and women of his division at the center--he was ranking United States Military Establishment officer farther than the eye could see. So he beat it, fast as he could, for New York, because what Army officer doesn't dream about being stationed in New York? And he set up his Temporary Military Government--and that was nine years ago.
If there hadn't been plenty to go around, I don't suppose he would have lasted a week--none of these city chiefs would have. But as things were, he was in on the ground floor, and as newcomers trickled into the city, his boys already had things nicely organized.
It was a soft touch.
Well, we were about a week getting settled in New York and things were looking pretty good. Vern calmed me down by pointing out that, after all, we had to sell Arthur, and hadn't we come out of it plenty okay?
And we had. There was no doubt about it. Not only did we have a fat price for Arthur, which was useful because there were a lot of things we would have to buy, but we both had jobs working for the Major.
Vern was his specialist in the care and feeding of Arthur and I was his chief of office routine--and, as such, I delighted his fussy little soul, because by adding what I remembered of Navy protocol to what he was able to teach me of Army routine, we came up with as snarled a mass of red tape as any field-grade officer in the whole history of all armed forces had been able to accumulate. Oh, I tell you, nobody sneezed in New York without a report being made out in triplicate, with eight endorsements.
Of course there wasn't anybody to send them to, but that didn't stop the Major. He said with determination: "Nobody's ever going to chew me out for non-compliance with regulations--even if I have to invent the regulations myself!"
We set up in a bachelor apartment on Central Park South--the Major had the penthouse; the whole building had been converted to barracks--and the first chance we got, Vern snaffled some transportation and we set out to find an ocean liner.
See, the thing was that an ocean liner isn't easy to steal. I mean we'd scouted out the lay of the land before we ever entered the city itself, and there were plenty of liners, but there wasn't one that looked like we could just jump in and sail it away. For that we needed an organization. Since we didn't have one, the best thing to do was borrow the Major's.
Vern turned up with Amy Bankhead's MG, and he also turned up with Amy. I can't say I was displeased, because I was beginning to like the girl; but did you ever try to ride three people in the seats of an MG? Well, the way to do it is by having one passenger sit in the other passenger's lap, which would have been all right except that Amy insisted on driving.
We headed downtown and over to the West Side. The Major's Topographical Section--one former billboard artist--had prepared road maps with little red-ink Xs marking the streets that were blocked, which was most of the streets; but we charted a course that would take us where we wanted to go. Thirty-fourth Street was open, and so was Fifth Avenue all of its length, so we scooted down Fifth, crossed over, got under the Elevated Highway and whined along uptown toward the Fifties.
"There's one," cried Amy, pointing.