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´╗┐Title: Bread Overhead
Author: Leiber, Fritz, 1910-1992
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bread Overhead" ***

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                               Bread
                                 Overhead

                            By FRITZ LEIBER


               _The Staff of Life suddenly and
                     disconcertingly sprouted wings
                           --and mankind had to eat crow!_


                          Illustrated by WOOD


As a blisteringly hot but guaranteed weather-controlled future summer
day dawned on the Mississippi Valley, the walking mills of Puffy
Products ("Spike to Loaf in One Operation!") began to tread delicately
on their centipede legs across the wheat fields of Kansas.

The walking mills resembled fat metal serpents, rather larger than those
Chinese paper dragons animated by files of men in procession. Sensory
robot devices in their noses informed them that the waiting wheat had
reached ripe perfection.

As they advanced, their heads swung lazily from side to side, very much
like snakes, gobbling the yellow grain. In their throats, it was
threshed, the chaff bundled and burped aside for pickup by the crawl
trucks of a chemical corporation, the kernels quick-dried and blown
along into the mighty chests of the machines. There the tireless mills
ground the kernels to flour, which was instantly sifted, the bran being
packaged and dropped like the chaff for pickup. A cluster of tanks which
gave the metal serpents a decidedly humpbacked appearance added water,
shortening, salt and other ingredients, some named and some not. The
dough was at the same time infused with gas from a tank conspicuously
labeled "Carbon Dioxide" ("No Yeast Creatures in Your Bread!").

[Illustration]

Thus instantly risen, the dough was clipped into loaves and shot into
radionic ovens forming the midsections of the metal serpents. There the
bread was baked in a matter of seconds, a fierce heat-front browning the
crusts, and the piping-hot loaves sealed in transparent plastic bearing
the proud Puffyloaf emblem (two cherubs circling a floating loaf) and
ejected onto the delivery platform at each serpent's rear end, where a
cluster of pickup machines, like hungry piglets, snatched at the loaves
with hygienic claws.

A few loaves would be hurried off for the day's consumption, the
majority stored for winter in strategically located mammoth deep
freezes.

But now, behold a wonder! As loaves began to appear on the delivery
platform of the first walking mill to get into action, they did not
linger on the conveyor belt, but rose gently into the air and slowly
traveled off down-wind across the hot rippling fields.

       *       *       *       *       *

The robot claws of the pickup machines clutched in vain, and, not
noticing the difference, proceeded carefully to stack emptiness, tier by
tier. One errant loaf, rising more sluggishly than its fellows, was
snagged by a thrusting claw. The machine paused, clumsily wiped off the
injured loaf, set it aside--where it bobbed on one corner, unable to
take off again--and went back to the work of storing nothingness.

A flock of crows rose from the trees of a nearby shelterbelt as the
flight of loaves approached. The crows swooped to investigate and then
suddenly scattered, screeching in panic.

The helicopter of a hangoverish Sunday traveler bound for Wichita shied
very similarly from the brown fliers and did not return for a second
look.

A black-haired housewife spied them over her back fence, crossed herself
and grabbed her walkie-talkie from the laundry basket. Seconds later,
the yawning correspondent of a regional newspaper was jotting down the
lead of a humorous news story which, recalling the old flying-saucer
scares, stated that now apparently bread was to be included in the mad
aerial tea party.

The congregation of an open-walled country church, standing up to recite
the most familiar of Christian prayers, had just reached the petition
for daily sustenance, when a sub-flight of the loaves, either forced
down by a vagrant wind or lacking the natural buoyancy of the rest, came
coasting silently as the sunbeams between the graceful pillars at the
altar end of the building.

Meanwhile, the main flight, now augmented by other bread flocks from
scores and hundreds of walking mills that had started work a little
later, mounted slowly and majestically into the cirrus-flecked upper
air, where a steady wind was blowing strongly toward the east.

About one thousand miles farther on in that direction, where a cluster
of stratosphere-tickling towers marked the location of the metropolis of
NewNew York, a tender scene was being enacted in the pressurized
penthouse managerial suite of Puffy Products. Megera Winterly, Secretary
in Chief to the Managerial Board and referred to by her underlings as
the Blonde Icicle, was dealing with the advances of Roger ("Racehorse")
Snedden, Assistant Secretary to the Board and often indistinguishable
from any passing office boy.

"Why don't you jump out the window, Roger, remembering to shut the
airlock after you?" the Golden Glacier said in tones not unkind. "When
are your high-strung, thoroughbred nerves going to accept the fact that
I would never consider marriage with a business inferior? You have about
as much chance as a starving Ukrainian kulak now that Moscow's clapped
on the interdict."

       *       *       *       *       *

Roger's voice was calm, although his eyes were feverishly bright, as he
replied, "A lot of things are going to be different around here, Meg, as
soon as the Board is forced to admit that only my quick thinking made it
possible to bring the name of Puffyloaf in front of the whole world."

"Puffyloaf could do with a little of that," the business girl observed
judiciously. "The way sales have been plummeting, it won't be long
before the Government deeds our desks to the managers of Fairy Bread and
asks us to take the Big Jump. But just where does your quick thinking
come into this, Mr. Snedden? You can't be referring to the helium--that
was Rose Thinker's brainwave."

She studied him suspiciously. "You've birthed another promotional
bumble, Roger. I can see it in your eyes. I only hope it's not as big a
one as when you put the Martian ambassador on 3D and he thanked you
profusely for the gross of Puffyloaves, assuring you that he'd never
slept on a softer mattress in all his life on two planets."

"Listen to me, Meg. Today--yes, today!--you're going to see the Board
eating out of my hand."

"Hah! I guarantee you won't have any fingers left. You're bold enough
now, but when Mr. Gryce and those two big machines come through that
door--"

"Now wait a minute, Meg--"

"Hush! They're coming now!"

Roger leaped three feet in the air, but managed to land without a sound
and edged toward his stool. Through the dilating iris of the door strode
Phineas T. Gryce, flanked by Rose Thinker and Tin Philosopher.

The man approached the conference table in the center of the room with
measured pace and gravely expressionless face. The rose-tinted machine
on his left did a couple of impulsive pirouettes on the way and
twittered a greeting to Meg and Roger. The other machine quietly took
the third of the high seats and lifted a claw at Meg, who now occupied a
stool twice the height of Roger's.

"Miss Winterly, please--our theme."

The Blonde Icicle's face thawed into a little-girl smile as she chanted
bubblingly:

    "_Made up of tiny wheaten motes
    And reinforced with sturdy oats,
    It rises through the air and floats--
    The bread on which all Terra dotes!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Thank you, Miss Winterly," said Tin Philosopher. "Though a purely
figurative statement, that bit about rising through the air always gets
me--here." He rapped his midsection, which gave off a high musical
_clang_.

"Ladies--" he inclined his photocells toward Rose Thinker and Meg--"and
gentlemen. This is a historic occasion in Old Puffy's long history, the
inauguration of the helium-filled loaf ('So Light It Almost Floats
Away!') in which that inert and heaven-aspiring gas replaces
old-fashioned carbon dioxide. Later, there will be kudos for Rose
Thinker, whose bright relays genius-sparked the idea, and also for Roger
Snedden, who took care of the details.

"By the by, Racehorse, that was a brilliant piece of work getting the
helium out of the government--they've been pretty stuffy lately about
their monopoly. But first I want to throw wide the casement in your
minds that opens on the Long View of Things."

Rose Thinker spun twice on her chair and opened her photocells wide. Tin
Philosopher coughed to limber up the diaphragm of his speaker and
continued:

"Ever since the first cave wife boasted to her next-den neighbor about
the superior paleness and fluffiness of her tortillas, mankind has
sought lighter, whiter bread. Indeed, thinkers wiser than myself have
equated the whole upward course of culture with this poignant quest.
Yeast was a wonderful discovery--for its primitive day. Sifting the bran
and wheat germ from the flour was an even more important advance. Early
bleaching and preserving chemicals played their humble parts.

"For a while, barbarous faddists--blind to the deeply spiritual nature
of bread, which is recognized by all great religions--held back our
march toward perfection with their hair-splitting insistence on the
vitamin content of the wheat germ, but their case collapsed when
tasteless colorless substitutes were triumphantly synthesized and
introduced into the loaf, which for flawless purity, unequaled airiness
and sheer intangible goodness was rapidly becoming mankind's supreme
gustatory experience."

[Illustration]

"I wonder what the stuff tastes like," Rose Thinker said out of a clear
sky.

"I wonder what taste tastes like," Tin Philosopher echoed dreamily.
Recovering himself, he continued:

"Then, early in the twenty-first century, came the epochal researches of
Everett Whitehead, Puffyloaf chemist, culminating in his paper 'The
Structural Bubble in Cereal Masses' and making possible the baking of
airtight bread twenty times stronger (for its weight) than steel and of
a lightness that would have been incredible even to the advanced
chemist-bakers of the twentieth century--a lightness so great that,
besides forming the backbone of our own promotion, it has forever since
been capitalized on by our conscienceless competitors of Fairy Bread
with their enduring slogan: 'It Makes Ghost Toast'."

"That's a beaut, all right, that ecto-dough blurb," Rose Thinker
admitted, bugging her photocells sadly. "Wait a sec. How about?--

    "_There'll be bread
    Overhead
    When you're dead--
    It is said._"

       *       *       *       *       *

Phineas T. Gryce wrinkled his nostrils at the pink machine as if he
smelled her insulation smoldering. He said mildly, "A somewhat unhappy
jingle, Rose, referring as it does to the end of the customer as
consumer. Moreover, we shouldn't overplay the figurative 'rises through
the air' angle. What inspired you?"

She shrugged. "I don't know--oh, yes, I do. I was remembering one of the
workers' songs we machines used to chant during the Big Strike--

    "_Work and pray,
    Live on hay.
    You'll get pie
    In the sky
    When you die--
    It's a lie!_

"I don't know why we chanted it," she added. "We didn't want pie--or
hay, for that matter. And machines don't pray, except Tibetan prayer
wheels."

Phineas T. Gryce shook his head. "Labor relations are another topic we
should stay far away from. However, dear Rose, I'm glad you keep trying
to outjingle those dirty crooks at Fairy Bread." He scowled, turning
back his attention to Tin Philosopher. "I get whopping mad, Old Machine,
whenever I hear that other slogan of theirs, the discriminatory
one--'Untouched by Robot Claws.' Just because they employ a few filthy
androids in their factories!"

Tin Philosopher lifted one of his own sets of bright talons. "Thanks,
P.T. But to continue my historical resume, the next great advance in the
baking art was the substitution of purified carbon dioxide, recovered
from coal smoke, for the gas generated by yeast organisms indwelling in
the dough and later killed by the heat of baking, their corpses
remaining _in situ_. But even purified carbon dioxide is itself a rather
repugnant gas, a product of metabolism whether fast or slow, and forever
associated with those life processes which are obnoxious to the
fastidious."

Here the machine shuddered with delicate clinkings. "Therefore, we of
Puffyloaf are taking today what may be the ultimate step toward purity:
we are aerating our loaves with the noble gas helium, an element which
remains virginal in the face of all chemical temptations and whose slim
molecules are eleven times lighter than obese carbon dioxide--yes, noble
uncontaminable helium, which, if it be a kind of ash, is yet the ash
only of radioactive burning, accomplished or initiated entirely on the
Sun, a safe 93 million miles from this planet. Let's have a cheer for
the helium loaf!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Without changing expression, Phineas T. Gryce rapped the table thrice in
solemn applause, while the others bowed their heads.

"Thanks, T.P.," P.T. then said. "And now for the Moment of Truth. Miss
Winterly, how is the helium loaf selling?"

The business girl clapped on a pair of earphones and whispered into a
lapel mike. Her gaze grew abstracted as she mentally translated flurries
of brief squawks into coherent messages. Suddenly a single vertical
furrow creased her matchlessly smooth brow.

"It isn't, Mr. Gryce!" she gasped in horror. "Fairy Bread is outselling
Puffyloaves by an infinity factor. So far this morning, _there has not
been one single delivery of Puffyloaves to any sales spot_! Complaints
about non-delivery are pouring in from both walking stores and sessile
shops."

"Mr. Snedden!" Gryce barked. "What bug in the new helium process might
account for this delay?"

Roger was on his feet, looking bewildered. "I can't imagine, sir,
unless--just possibly--there's been some unforeseeable difficulty
involving the new metal-foil wrappers."

"Metal-foil wrappers? Were _you_ responsible for those?"

"Yes, sir. Last-minute recalculations showed that the extra lightness of
the new loaf might be great enough to cause drift during stackage.
Drafts in stores might topple sales pyramids. Metal-foil wrappers, by
their added weight, took care of the difficulty."

"And you ordered them without consulting the Board?"

"Yes, sir. There was hardly time and--"

"Why, you fool! I noticed that order for metal-foil wrappers, assumed it
was some sub-secretary's mistake, and canceled it last night!"

Roger Snedden turned pale. "You canceled it?" he quavered. "And told
them to go back to the lighter plastic wrappers?"

"Of course! Just what is behind all this, Mr. Snedden? _What_
recalculations were you trusting, when our physicists had demonstrated
months ago that the helium loaf was safely stackable in light airs and
gentle breezes--winds up to Beaufort's scale 3. _Why_ should a change
from heavier to lighter wrappers result in complete non-delivery?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Roger Snedden's paleness became tinged with an interesting green. He
cleared his throat and made strange gulping noises. Tin Philosopher's
photocells focused on him calmly, Rose Thinker's with unfeigned
excitement. P.T. Gryce's frown grew blacker by the moment, while Megera
Winterly's Venus-mask showed an odd dawning of dismay and awe. She was
getting new squawks in her earphones.

"Er ... ah ... er...." Roger said in winning tones. "Well, you see, the
fact is that I...."

"Hold it," Meg interrupted crisply. "Triple-urgent from Public
Relations, Safety Division. Tulsa-Topeka aero-express makes emergency
landing after being buffeted in encounter with vast flight of objects
first described as brown birds, although no failures reported in
airway's electronic anti-bird fences. After grounding safely near
Emporia--no fatalities--pilot's windshield found thinly plastered with
soft white-and-brown material. Emblems on plastic wrappers embedded in
material identify it incontrovertibly as an undetermined number of
Puffyloaves cruising at three thousand feet!"

Eyes and photocells turned inquisitorially upon Roger Snedden. He went
from green to Puffyloaf white and blurted: "All right, I did it, but it
was the only way out! Yesterday morning, due to the Ukrainian crisis,
the government stopped sales and deliveries of all strategic stockpiled
materials, including helium gas. Puffy's new program of advertising and
promotion, based on the lighter loaf, was already rolling. There was
only one thing to do, there being only one other gas comparable in
lightness to helium. I diverted the necessary quantity of hydrogen gas
from the Hydrogenated Oils Section of our Magna-Margarine Division and
substituted it for the helium."

"You substituted ... hydrogen ... for the ... helium?" Phineas T. Gryce
faltered in low mechanical tones, taking four steps backward.

"Hydrogen is twice as light as helium," Tin Philosopher remarked
judiciously.

"And many times cheaper--did you know that?" Roger countered feebly.
"Yes, I substituted hydrogen. The metal-foil wrapping would have added
just enough weight to counteract the greater buoyancy of the hydrogen
loaf. But--"

"So, when this morning's loaves began to arrive on the delivery
platforms of the walking mills...." Tin Philosopher left the remark
unfinished.

"Exactly," Roger agreed dismally.

"Let me ask you, Mr. Snedden," Gryce interjected, still in low tones,
"if you expected people to jump to the kitchen ceiling for their
Puffybread after taking off the metal wrapper, or reach for the sky if
they happened to unwrap the stuff outdoors?"

"Mr. Gryce," Roger said reproachfully, "you have often assured me that
what people do with Puffybread after they buy it is no concern of ours."

"I seem to recall," Rose Thinker chirped somewhat unkindly, "that dictum
was created to answer inquiries after Roger put the famous
sculptures-in-miniature artist on 3D and he testified that he always
molded his first attempts from Puffybread, one jumbo loaf squeezing down
to approximately the size of a peanut."

       *       *       *       *       *

Her photocells dimmed and brightened. "Oh, boy--hydrogen! The loaf's
unwrapped. After a while, in spite of the crust-seal, a little oxygen
diffuses in. An explosive mixture. Housewife in curlers and kimono pops
a couple slices in the toaster. Boom!"

The three human beings in the room winced.

Tin Philosopher kicked her under the table, while observing, "So you
see, Roger, that the non-delivery of the hydrogen loaf carries some
consolations. And I must confess that one aspect of the affair gives me
great satisfaction, not as a Board Member but as a private machine. You
have at last made a reality of the 'rises through the air' part of
Puffybread's theme. They can't ever take that away from you. By now,
half the inhabitants of the Great Plains must have observed our flying
loaves rising high."

Phineas T. Gryce shot a frightened look at the west windows and found
his full voice.

"Stop the mills!" he roared at Meg Winterly, who nodded and whispered
urgently into her mike.

"A sensible suggestion," Tin Philosopher said. "But it comes a trifle
late in the day. If the mills are still walking and grinding,
approximately seven billion Puffyloaves are at this moment cruising
eastward over Middle America. Remember that a six-month supply for
deep-freeze is involved and that the current consumption of bread, due
to its matchless airiness, is eight and one-half loaves per person per
day."

Phineas T. Gryce carefully inserted both hands into his scanty hair,
feeling for a good grip. He leaned menacingly toward Roger who, chin
resting on the table, regarded him apathetically.

"Hold it!" Meg called sharply. "Flock of multiple-urgents coming in.
News Liaison: information bureaus swamped with flying-bread inquiries.
Aero-expresslines: Clear our airways or face law suit. U. S. Army: Why
do loaves flame when hit by incendiary bullets? U. S. Customs: If bread
intended for export, get export license or face prosecution. Russian
Consulate in Chicago: Advise on destination of bread-lift. And some
Kansas church is accusing us of a hoax inciting to blasphemy, of faking
miracles--I don't know _why_."

The business girl tore off her headphones. "Roger Snedden," she cried
with a hysteria that would have dumfounded her underlings, "you've
brought the name of Puffyloaf in front of the whole world, all right!
Now do something about the situation!"

Roger nodded obediently. But his pallor increased a shade, the pupils of
his eyes disappeared under the upper lids, and his head burrowed beneath
his forearms.

"Oh, boy," Rose Thinker called gayly to Tin Philosopher, "this looks
like the start of a real crisis session! Did you remember to bring spare
batteries?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, the monstrous flight of Puffyloaves, filling midwestern skies
as no small fliers had since the days of the passenger pigeon, soared
steadily onward.

Private fliers approached the brown and glistening bread-front in
curiosity and dipped back in awe. Aero-expresslines organized
sightseeing flights along the flanks. Planes of the government forestry
and agricultural services and 'copters bearing the Puffyloaf emblem
hovered on the fringes, watching developments and waiting for orders. A
squadron of supersonic fighters hung menacingly above.

The behavior of birds varied considerably. Most fled or gave the loaves
a wide berth, but some bolder species, discovering the minimal nutritive
nature of the translucent brown objects, attacked them furiously with
beaks and claws. Hydrogen diffusing slowly through the crusts had now
distended most of the sealed plastic wrappers into little balloons,
which ruptured, when pierced, with disconcerting _pops_.

Below, neck-craning citizens crowded streets and back yards, cranks and
cultists had a field day, while local and national governments raged
indiscriminately at Puffyloaf and at each other.

Rumors that a fusion weapon would be exploded in the midst of the flying
bread drew angry protests from conservationists and a flood of telefax
pamphlets titled "H-Loaf or H-bomb?"

Stockholm sent a mystifying note of praise to the United Nations Food
Organization.

Delhi issued nervous denials of a millet blight that no one had heard of
until that moment and reaffirmed India's ability to feed her population
with no outside help except the usual.

Radio Moscow asserted that the Kremlin would brook no interference in
its treatment of the Ukrainians, jokingly referred to the flying bread
as a farce perpetrated by mad internationalists inhabiting Cloud Cuckoo
Land, added contradictory references to airborne bread booby-trapped by
Capitalist gangsters, and then fell moodily silent on the whole topic.

Radio Venus reported to its winged audience that Earth's inhabitants
were establishing food depots in the upper air, preparatory to taking up
permanent aerial residence "such as we have always enjoyed on Venus."

       *       *       *       *       *

NewNew York made feverish preparations for the passage of the flying
bread. Tickets for sightseeing space in skyscrapers were sold at high
prices; cold meats and potted spreads were hawked to viewers with the
assurance that they would be able to snag the bread out of the air and
enjoy a historic sandwich.

Phineas T. Gryce, escaping from his own managerial suite, raged about
the city, demanding general cooperation in the stretching of great nets
between the skyscrapers to trap the errant loaves. He was captured by
Tin Philosopher, escaped again, and was found posted with oxygen mask
and submachine gun on the topmost spire of Puffyloaf Tower, apparently
determined to shoot down the loaves as they appeared and before they
involved his company in more trouble with Customs and the State
Department.

Recaptured by Tin Philosopher, who suffered only minor bullet holes, he
was given a series of mild electroshocks and returned to the conference
table, calm and clear-headed as ever.

[Illustration]

But the bread flight, swinging away from a hurricane moving up the
Atlantic coast, crossed a clouded-in Boston by night and disappeared
into a high Atlantic overcast, also thereby evading a local storm
generated by the Weather Department in a last-minute effort to bring
down or at least disperse the H-loaves.

Warnings and counterwarnings by Communist and Capitalist governments
seriously interfered with military trailing of the flight during this
period and it was actually lost in touch with for several days.

At scattered points, seagulls were observed fighting over individual
loaves floating down from the gray roof--that was all.

A mood of spirituality strongly tinged with humor seized the people of
the world. Ministers sermonized about the bread, variously interpreting
it as a call to charity, a warning against gluttony, a parable of the
evanescence of all earthly things, and a divine joke. Husbands and
wives, facing each other across their walls of breakfast toast, burst
into laughter. The mere sight of a loaf of bread anywhere was enough to
evoke guffaws. An obscure sect, having as part of its creed the
injunction "Don't take yourself so damn seriously," won new adherents.

The bread flight, rising above an Atlantic storm widely reported to have
destroyed it, passed unobserved across a foggy England and rose out of
the overcast only over Mittel-europa. The loaves had at last reached
their maximum altitude.

The Sun's rays beat through the rarified air on the distended plastic
wrappers, increasing still further the pressure of the confined
hydrogen. They burst by the millions and tens of millions. A high-flying
Bulgarian evangelist, who had happened to mistake the up-lever for the
east-lever in the cockpit of his flier and who was the sole witness of
the event, afterward described it as "the foaming of a sea of diamonds,
the crackle of God's knuckles."

       *       *       *       *       *

By the millions and tens of millions, the loaves coasted down into the
starving Ukraine. Shaken by a week of humor that threatened to invade
even its own grim precincts, the Kremlin made a sudden about-face. A new
policy was instituted of communal ownership of the produce of communal
farms, and teams of hunger-fighters and caravans of trucks loaded with
pumpernickel were dispatched into the Ukraine.

World distribution was given to a series of photographs showing
peasants queueing up to trade scavenged Puffyloaves for traditional
black bread, recently aerated itself but still extra solid by
comparison, the rate of exchange demanded by the Moscow teams being
twenty Puffyloaves to one of pumpernickel.

Another series of photographs, picturing chubby workers' children being
blown to bits by booby-trapped bread, was quietly destroyed.

Congratulatory notes were exchanged by various national governments and
world organizations, including the Brotherhood of Free Business
Machines. The great bread flight was over, though for several weeks
afterward scattered falls of loaves occurred, giving rise to a new
folklore of manna among lonely Arabian tribesmen, and in one
well-authenticated instance in Tibet, sustaining life in a party of
mountaineers cut off by a snow slide.

Back in NewNew York, the managerial board of Puffy Products slumped in
utter collapse around the conference table, the long crisis session at
last ended. Empty coffee cartons were scattered around the chairs of the
three humans, dead batteries around those of the two machines. For a
while, there was no movement whatsoever. Then Roger Snedden reached out
wearily for the earphones where Megera Winterly had hurled them down,
adjusted them to his head, pushed a button and listened apathetically.

After a bit, his gaze brightened. He pushed more buttons and listened
more eagerly. Soon he was sitting tensely upright on his stool, eyes
bright and lower face all a-smile, muttering terse comments and
questions into the lapel mike torn from Meg's fair neck.

The others, reviving, watched him, at first dully, then with quickening
interest, especially when he jerked off the earphones with a happy shout
and sprang to his feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Listen to this!" he cried in a ringing voice. "As a result of the
worldwide publicity, Puffyloaves are outselling Fairy Bread three to
one--and that's just the old carbon-dioxide stock from our freezers!
It's almost exhausted, but the government, now that the Ukrainian crisis
is over, has taken the ban off helium and will also sell us stockpiled
wheat if we need it. We can have our walking mills burrowing into the
wheat caves in a matter of hours!

"But that isn't all! The far greater demand everywhere is for
Puffyloaves that will actually float. Public Relations, Child Liaison
Division, reports that the kiddies are making their mothers' lives
miserable about it. If only we can figure out some way to make hydrogen
non-explosive or the helium loaf float just a little--"

"I'm sure we can take care of that quite handily," Tin Philosopher
interrupted briskly. "Puffyloaf has kept it a corporation secret--even
you've never been told about it--but just before he went crazy, Everett
Whitehead discovered a way to make bread using only half as much flour
as we do in the present loaf. Using this secret technique, which we've
been saving for just such an emergency, it will be possible to bake a
helium loaf as buoyant in every respect as the hydrogen loaf."

"Good!" Roger cried. "We'll tether 'em on strings and sell 'em like
balloons. No mother-child shopping team will leave the store without a
cluster. Buying bread balloons will be the big event of the day for
kiddies. It'll make the carry-home shopping load lighter too! I'll issue
orders at once--"

       *       *       *       *       *

He broke off, looking at Phineas T. Gryce, said with quiet assurance,
"Excuse me, sir, if I seem to be taking too much upon myself."

"Not at all, son; go straight ahead," the great manager said
approvingly. "You're"--he laughed in anticipation of getting off a
memorable remark--"rising to the challenging situation like a genuine
Puffyloaf."

Megera Winterly looked from the older man to the younger. Then in a
single leap she was upon Roger, her arms wrapped tightly around him.

"My sweet little ever-victorious, self-propelled monkey wrench!" she
crooned in his ear. Roger looked fatuously over her soft shoulder at Tin
Philosopher who, as if moved by some similar feeling, reached over and
touched claws with Rose Thinker.

This, however, was what he telegraphed silently to his fellow machine
across the circuit so completed:

"Good-o, Rosie! That makes another victory for robot-engineered world
unity, though you almost gave us away at the start with that 'bread
overhead' jingle. We've struck another blow against the next world war,
in which--as we know only too well!--we machines would suffer the most.
Now if we can only arrange, say, a fur-famine in Alaska and a migration
of long-haired Siberian lemmings across Behring Straits ... we'd have to
swing the Japanese Current up there so it'd be warm enough for the
little fellows.... Anyhow, Rosie, with a spot of help from the
Brotherhood, those humans will paint themselves into the peace corner
yet."

Meanwhile, he and Rose Thinker quietly watched the Blonde Icicle melt.


                                                  --FRITZ LEIBER



Transcriber's Note

This etext was produced from _Galaxy_ February 1958. Extensive research
did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication
was renewed. Minor spelling and typographical errors have been corrected
without note.





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