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´╗┐Title: The Amazing Mrs. Mimms
Author: Knight, David C.
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 "The Amazing Mrs. Mimms" ***

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe August 1958. Extensive
    research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
    publication was renewed.


[_"Long may the good lady serve us poor folks in the dim
   past," writes the author, who will be remembered for his_ THE LOVE
   OF FRANK NINETEEN _(Dec. 1957) and who feels that much of SF
   "misses" because it lacks the human angle. "I believe you can have
   gimmicks and human interest too," he writes._]


                        the amazing mrs. mimms


                       _by ... David C. Knight_


     Tea had a wonderful effect on her. Sipping it slowly, she
     felt the strength returning to her tired system.

       *       *       *       *       *



There was a muffled rushing noise and the faintly acrid smell of ion
electrodes as the Time Translator deposited Mrs. Mimms back into the
year 1958. Being used to such journeys, she looked calmly about with
quick gray eyes, making little flicking gestures with her hands as if
brushing the stray minutes and seconds from her plain brown coat.

The scene of Mrs. Mimms' arrival in the past was the rear of a large
supermarket, more specifically between two packing cases which had
once contained breakfast foods. The excursion through time had
evidently been a smooth one for the smile had not once left Mrs.
Mimms' rotund countenance during the intervening centuries.

Two heavy black suitcases appeared to be the lady's only luggage
accompanying her from the future. These she picked up with a sharp
gasp and made her way to the front of the shopping center around which
slick new apartment buildings formed a horseshoe.

Mrs. Mimms was, as usual, on another assignment for Destinyworkers,
Inc.

It was early evening at the Greenlawn Apartments, a time supposedly
of contentment, yet Mrs. Mimms was quick to sense the disturbing
vibrations in the warm air. She pressed through the crowds entering
and leaving the supermarket. A faint mustache of perspiration formed
on her upper lip. No one offered to help her with the bags. With a
professional eye Mrs. Mimms noted the drawn mouths, the tense
expressions typical of the Time Zone and shook her head. Central as
usual had not been wrong; the Briefing Officer himself had cautioned
her on what poor shape the Zonal area was in.

Jostling Mrs. Mimms on all sides were mostly young men and women
accompanied by energetic, wriggling children of varying ages. It
saddened Mrs. Mimms to see the premature lines forming in the youthful
mothers' foreheads, and the gray settling too quickly into the men's
hair. Mrs. Mimms, who considered herself not quite in the twilight of
middle age, was just 107 that month.

Outbursts of juvenile and adult temper grated harshly in the
Destinyworker's ears. She witnessed a resounding slap and a child's
cry of pain. A young mother was shouting angrily: "Couldn't _you_ have
kept an eye on her? Do I have to watch her every minute?"

Mrs. Mimms hurried swiftly on for there was much she had to do. Then
she stopped abruptly before a small delicatessen. She entered and gave
the clerk her order:

"One package of Orange Pekoe Tea, if you please. Tea _leaves_, not
bags."

There were definite advantages, thought Mrs. Mimms, in being assigned
to any century preceding the Twenty-Third. Due to the increasing use
of synthetic products in Mrs. Mimms' home-century the tea plant, among
other vegetation, had been allowed to become extinct. Ever since Mrs.
Mimms' solo assignment to Eighteenth Century England, she had grown
exceedingly fond of the beverage.

Ten minutes later Mrs. Mimms, one of Destinyworkers' best Certified
Priority Operators, reached the Renting Office of the Greenlawn
Apartments. "I do hope the Superintendent is still on duty," panted
Mrs. Mimms, setting her bags down very carefully. "If the Research
Department is correct--and it usually is--his hours are from 9 to
6:30."

It was one minute past 6:30 when Mrs. Mimms knocked.

"Yeah?" boomed a disgruntled voice. "Come on in. It ain't locked."

"Good evening," said Mrs. Mimms to a young man in work clothes seated
behind a paper-strewn desk. "I hope it's not too late for you to show
me an apartment tonight. It needn't be large. Two or three rooms will
do nicely. However, I have one stipulation."

"We aim to please at Greenlawn, Ma'am--within reason--you understand."

"I understand," replied the Destinyworker. "It is merely that the
apartment should, as far as possible, be located in the central part
of the building and on a middle floor--not too high or too low."

"No problem there," said the super, consulting a board from which hung
a number of keys. "Most of 'em want just the opposite--corner
apartments, views, top floor, Southern exposure. Here's one. Partly
furnished. Young couple left for Europe. They want to sublet for the
rest of the lease."

"I hope the rent is reasonable."

It was. Mrs. Mimms received the news with apparent relief. Due to the
high cost of Time Translation and maintenance of workers in other
Zones, Destinyworkers, Inc., a non-profit organization, had to keep
its overhead at a minimum.

"This will do very nicely," Mrs. Mimms announced after inspecting the
apartment. "I should like to move in at once." The superintendent then
brought up his new tenant's suitcases, commented upon their weight,
obtained Mrs. Mimms' signature on the preliminary lease and left.

Even for younger Destinyworkers, time travel at best was an exhausting
business. The bags _had_ been heavy, and Zonal Speech Compliance was
always a strain at the outset of an assignment. Mrs. Mimms needed
refreshment. Finding a battered pot and a broken cup abandoned by the
former tenants, she heated water on the range and made herself some
hot tea. Sipping it slowly Mrs. Mimms felt the strength returning to
her tired system.

Having eaten an early dinner in the future Mrs. Mimms was not hungry.
The tea would be sufficient until tomorrow. She washed the cup
carefully, put away the pot and then unlocked one of her black
suitcases. From it she extracted a small white card on which there was
some printing and a phone number at the bottom. Mrs. Mimms checked the
phone number with the telephone in her new apartment; they were the
same. Research was almost _never_ wrong. Mrs. Mimms then took the card
down to the main floor and attached it to a bulletin board with four
thumbtacks. The message read:

        _Mrs. Althea Mimms_
Professional Companion & Babysitter
        Rates Reasonable

Back in her apartment, the time traveler opened the other suitcase. It
contained a batch of weird-looking apparatus which faintly resembled a
television set, although there were twice the number of dials and
knobs. To the uninitiated eye the legends under them would have been
perplexing--"Month Selector," "Reverse Day Fast-Forward,"
"Weekometer," "Minute-Second Divider." To Mrs. Mimms however the
instrument was simply standard equipment for all assignments. She
placed it carefully on the desk in her living room and, one by one,
drew out the five sensitive antennae from their sockets. Mrs. Mimms
did not need to use the electrical outlet under the desk for new d-c
ion batteries had been installed whose combined guaranteed life was
five years.

It had grown somewhat late at Greenlawn--the hands of Mrs. Mimms'
watch were nearing eleven--yet this did not deter her from flicking
the power on. She dialed to a position a few hours before on that same
evening and waited for the equipment to warm up. A roar of angry
static and strident voices suddenly filled the room until Mrs. Mimms
quickly cut the volume. The outburst was definitely an indication that
her work was cut out for her. Eyeing the red pilot indicator across
which a ribbon of names was flashing she slowly twirled the Master
Selector. Images flickered and disappeared on the screen; then
suddenly Mrs. Mimms leaned forward anxiously. A living room much like
her own came into view and in it a man and a woman faced each other
menacingly. The pilot was flashing the name Randolph, Apt. 14-B.

Reducing the volume slightly, Mrs. Mimms listened:

"You don't care, Bill Randolph. If you cared we could be out somewhere
right now. My God, it's Saturday night. I'll bet the Bairds and
Simmons are at a show right now. But not us. Oh, no. Honestly, I don't
think you'd stir out of that chair if it weren't for your meals and
the office."

"You're a great one to talk," snapped the young man. "Every time we
decide to line something up you get finicky about a sitter. How many
times have we sat for Ruth Whatshername? And we're up at Ellen Fox's a
couple of nights, too. Then our kid comes down with a cold or
something and they're not good enough. No wonder we never get out."

"Can I help it if Kenny takes after _your_ side of the family? You and
your mother are always coming down with something. He's _sensitive_. I
won't have some other woman taking care of my child when he needs my
attention. And I _won't_ have these teenage girls for Kenneth with
their boyfriends lolling all over the sofa. I wouldn't have an easy
minute while we were away. Anyway, when we _do_ get out I don't notice
you bending over backwards to get tickets for anything decent. It's
always something _you_ want to see. Those silly Marilyn Monroe movies,
for instance."

"What's wrong with Marilyn Monroe? I wouldn't _mind_ being nagged by
_her_."

"I see," choked the young woman, biting her lip. "Thank you very much.
Of course it's perfectly _OK_ when something is wrong with every other
meal I cook. It's _fine_ when Your Majesty doesn't like the dress I've
got on or the way I have my hair."

Mrs. Randolph's rising voice elicited a child's cry from the rear of
the apartment. Both parents stiffened.

"Go ahead, say it, say it was _me_ who woke him up this time," bleated
Randolph. He quickly snapped a newspaper up between himself and his
wife.

Mrs. Mimms cut the picture and erased the name from the pilot
indicator. The case was a typical one, routine in fact; yet it was the
first one of the assignment and Mrs. Mimms was moved to expedite it.
She picked up the telephone and placed a call to nearby New York City.
The party answered promptly.

"Althea! How nice. I didn't know you were in the Twentieth again. What
can I do for you?"

"You can arrange some entertainment for me, George. Something good.
For two."

Mrs. Mimms held the phone for a minute. Presently the conversation
resumed as the voice of George Kahn, Resident Destinyworker, came over
the wire.

"Sorry to be so long, Althea, it took some managing. I've got you two
in the orchestra for 'My Fair Lady' on the 28th. That's the best of
the current crop. Nice little thing, it'll be running for another four
years of course. Ought to catch it yourself some night."

"I'd love to, George, but I shan't have time. Not the way this
assignment's developing. You know what to do with the tickets."

Mrs. Mimms replaced the telephone in its cradle and turned again to
the Master Selector. Among the kaleidoscope of voices and figures not
all were scenes of frustration and discontent. Yet enough of them were
so that Mrs. Mimms was seriously disturbed. Then again, the apparatus
had its indiscriminate faults: at one scene Mrs. Mimms blushed deeply
and flicked the dial to another setting. Suddenly she was surprised to
hear a familiar voice. The pilot monitor showed that it was the
apartment of the building superintendent.

"It ain't right. You know it ain't right," the super was saying. He
was sunk deep into an overstuffed chair and there was a can of beer at
his elbow. "No wonder the kids're getting lousy report cards. The
minute they get home from school they park in front of the TV. By the
time they're ready for supper they're so excited watching Indians and
cowboys and Foreign Legion stuff they can't eat. Afterwards they are
too knocked out to do their homework."

"Don't I know it," said his wife. "But you can't forbid them because
all the other kids are allowed to watch the same things. Adele Jones
down the hall says she has the same trouble. They tried taking Brian's
TV away and the kid put up such a fuss they gave it back just to get
some peace."

The super took a swallow of beer and tapped one of the report cards in
disgust.

"Look at that. Charlotte gets a 'D' in Reading. Goddam it, she's a
smart enough kid. I can't remember when's the last time I saw _either_
of them bring a book back from the library. Hell, they're too busy
worrying about how Sergeant Prestons' going to come out."

"You'd think they'd have more educational stuff on TV."

"I may be only a superintendent," growled the super, "but, by God,
those kids are going to college. They're gonna have opportunities I
never had. Sometimes I got a good mind to kick a hole right through
that 21" screen."

"Aw, Chuck, honey, take it easy. You're the best super this building
ever had. I got me a real sweet guy, even if he isn't no college
graduate."

"I ain't no Biff Baker or Captain Video, either. Maybe if I was the
kids could watch me and we could dump the TV set."

Mrs. Mimms dimmed the screen and recorded the problem briefly in a
notebook marked ACTIVE. This too was a common enough complaint of the
Time Zone. Mrs. Mimms rummaged about in one of the suitcases until she
produced a brightly colored box. Inside the box were a number of
objects resembling radio condensers with small metal clamps at either
end. Mrs. Mimms removed one and read the label: FILTER XC8794,
Reading. _Caution: for best results attach to TV aerial. Lasts 2 weeks
only. Destroy label before using._

"I _do_ hope the superintendent's set doesn't have rabbits' ears,"
said Mrs. Mimms, dialing the super's apartment again to check.
"Hooking these up to a regular aerial is so much easier." The
superintendent's set luckily had an outside antenna and by
manipulating certain dials, the Destinyworker traced it out and up to
the roof. Pressing a button marked TRACER LIGHT, she left the set in
operation and made her way up to the top floor of the apartment house.
Taking the fire exit to the roof, Mrs. Mimms found herself among a
forest of TV aerials. However there was a small circle of light cast
about one of them and she went to it and attached the filter.

Returning to her apartment, Mrs. Mimms went immediately to bed. She
would have liked a last cup of tea before retiring, but she was too
tired to fix it.

The telephone woke the time traveler at half past ten the next
morning. She answered it sleepily. It was a young mother, Mrs. Mimms'
first customer. Could Mrs. Mimms _possibly_ come that night? The voice
sounded desperate, then relieved when Mrs. Mimms answered Yes, she
would be there.

Remembering that she had had nothing to eat since her own century,
Mrs. Mimms hurried below to the delicatessen and purchased some Danish
pastry. She looked forward to a cup of strong tea. As she waited for
the water to boil, she switched on the apparatus and dialed once or
twice across the band. At that hour most of the apartments were
silent. Wives were attending to cleaning or washing and the children
had been sent out to play. Leaving the apparatus for a minute, Mrs.
Mimms made her tea. When she returned there was a burst of static on
the loudspeaker, then a loud childish voice and images took shape on
the screen.

"I'm captain of this spaceship, Ronnie Smith," insisted the taller of
the two youngsters. "You gotta do like I say. We're the first guys on
this planet, see? We got cut off from the ship by the monsters and we
only got another half hour of oxygen left. We gotta shoot our way
back. Let's go, Lieutenant Smith."

"Ah, you're always the captain," muttered Lt. Smith mutinously, though
inaudibly under his F.A.O. Schwartz plastic helmet. The two Earthlings
advanced cautiously across the parking lot in the rear of the
apartment building, mowing down the aliens like flies with their
atomic ray guns.

"Ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. See me get that one, Smith?" screamed the captain
murderously. "Right in the belly, look at the guts. Ah-ah-ah-ah. Big
spiders, about twenty feet tall. There's some more. Make every shot
count, Smith. We gotta make the ship before they do."

"I just blasted five of 'em with one shot," bragged Lt. Smith,
leveling his pistol at a particularly large alien and watching it
dissolve.

Fighting their way desperately across the parking lot the spacemen
finally made the Smith family car in safety. "Blast off immediately,
Lt. Smith," ordered the captain. The rocket wavered for a minute and
rose. "Wait a minute, Smith. I seen Rocky Morgan do this once in a
comic book. No member of the Space Patrol lets an alien get away
alive. We got to kill 'em all. Head back and we'll get the rest of 'em
with the hydrogen artillery." Accordingly the ship swept low over the
strange planet. "Ah-ah-ah-ah." Twin sheets of imaginary flame burst
from the rocket and the remainder of the faltering spider-monsters
perished horribly.

Shaking her head, Mrs. Mimms spun the Master Selector until the screen
went blank. An avid space traveler herself (she was especially fond of
a nice Lunar trip at vacation time), the negative implications of this
childish violence had a depressing effect on Mrs. Mimms. She noted the
incident down in her notebook and starred it for special attention.

Like any woman in any century, Mrs. Mimms had an infallible remedy for
cheering herself up. She went shopping. By economizing on her expense
account she found it possible to afford a tiny luxury now and then.
Mrs. Mimms bought a badly needed blouse and some facial cream. She
also bought some groceries and a newspaper. After a modest meal, she
found that she had an hour before her babysitting assignment. Opening
the newspaper to the sports page, she indulged in one of the
amusements common among Certified Priority Operators. Glancing down
the list of tomorrow's daily-double she checked the names of horses
to win, place and show. Mrs. Mimms made her selections merely by the
sound of the names. She then turned a knob marked Tomorrow and dialed
about with the Master Selector until the image of a man reading a
newspaper appeared on the screen. She waited until he turned to the
sports page before seeing how she had done. She had done poorly. Only
one winner out of seven races. Of course, using the Destiny apparatus
itself for personal gain was a violation of the Direct Influencing of
Personal Fate Clause and was sufficient reason for losing her CPO
ticket.

When Mrs. Mimms returned from babysitting it was after midnight. A cup
of tea at her elbow, she sat down before the screen. There was a party
just breaking up in the far building. Some people above her were
watching the late show on TV. A couple on her own floor were arguing
about money but the argument seemed to be nearly over and Mrs. Mimms
did not intrude further. Suddenly the pilot marked URGENT started
flashing and the blurs on the screen sharpened into a young man and
woman seated across from each other in the apartment where the party
had been. Half-finished drinks and ash trays full of stubs lay about.
Husband and wife were both slightly drunk and being very frank with
each other.

"I don't know how we got off on _this_," remarked the man. "Whenever
George gets a couple of drinks in him he starts popping off about
politics and the fate of the world. He doesn't know a damn thing about
either."

"Well, at least he's optimistic," the young woman said, kicking off
her shoes.

"You can say that again! Fifty years from now, according to George,
we'll all be living in plastic houses with three helicopters in each
garage. There won't be any unemployment, we'll have a four-day week,
atomic energy'll be doing all the heavy work, mankind'll have realized
the futility of war, everything'll be just hunky-dory. Nuts! Guys like
George make me sick."

"But good Lord, honey, if everyone felt like you there wouldn't _be_
any world. Maybe things won't be perfect but life's got to go on."

"Go on to what?" muttered the husband, polishing off his watery
highball. "--To a great big beautiful cloud of atomic fallout, that's
what. Don't laugh either, because everything points that way and you
know it. Sputniks and ICBMs zooming around, both sides stockpiling
like crazy, half the world scrapping as it is. It's just a question of
who tosses the first match and then blooie! Hell, Julie, it's not that
I don't _want_ another kid. It's just that I don't think it's fair to
create human life and turn it loose in this--this holocaust."

The young woman got up and sat on the arm of his chair and stroked
his hair. "Oh Bill, honey, it's _wrong_ to think like that. Don't you
see how wrong it is?" Suddenly she wrinkled her nose at him and
whispered some words in his ear. They were in the special
baby-language which had sprung up around the first child.

Then she said tipsily: "A baby is such a tiny thing."

"Yeah," said her husband, "you feed them and take care of them and
watch them grow and it's swell. Just like the fatted calf. Then you
flip open the evening paper and wonder whether they'll have the good
luck to die in their beds at a ripe old age. I tell you I'm honestly
frightened of where we're going...."

       *       *       *       *       *

There were tense little crow's feet about Mrs. Mimms' eyes as she
cleared the screen. She reached immediately for the telephone and
dialed a number. A couple of seconds later the Resident
Destinyworker's voice said, "Hello?"

"George, this is Althea. I'm sorry to be calling so late but I have a
Condition Twelve case."

George Kahn's voice was instantly alert. "Male?"

"Yes, and a good Third Intensity. Here are the coordinates if you want
to rerun it yourself." Mrs. Mimms read some figures off the dials.
"I'm authorized a week's night-teleportation but I only have the
standard equipment of course. You have the Viele apparatus over there,
haven't you?"

"Yes, but frankly, Althea, even with the Viele we're limited in what
we can do. I don't have to tell you that's getting pretty close to
Direct Influence. I tampered with it myself a couple of years ago and
got a stiff reprimand from Central."

"But, George, this is a _Twelve_. A serious one. The files at Central
are full of Anti-Population Projectographs. All that might-have-been
talent that's lost in every Time Zone! Think what might have happened
if we hadn't interfered in the Voltaire case! Why we might even have
lost Darwin himself if Mr. Wentworth hadn't insisted on three nights
of the Viele for Darwin's parents."

"Well, yes," admitted the Resident Destinyworker. "All right, Althea,
I'll give him a week's dream kinesis if you insist but just remember
the Sophistication Curve in the Twentieth. You'll probably have to
supplement it with some work of your own."

"Thank you George, I will."

"And Althea--"

"Yes?"

"You sound tired. Get a good night's rest. The Mid-Twentieth's a tough
Zone and the Chief would not want one of his best CPO's taking on more
than she can handle. Personally, I think you ought to ask him for a
nice soft assignment in the Future Division next trip."

Mrs. Mimms smiled. "I'll leave the glamor to the youngsters, George,
they're much better at it. Besides," she added, "there isn't any tea
there."

Again, Mrs. Mimms would have liked a cup, but she was much too tired
to prepare it.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three weeks after Mrs. Mimms' arrival at the Greenlawn Apartments, the
superintendent was repairing a leaky faucet on the top floor. The
housewife watched him as he gave the nut a final twist with his wrench
and stood up.

"Thanks for coming up and looking at it so soon, Mr. Seely," she said.
"How are Mrs. Seely and the children?"

"Good Mrs. Dorne, real good, thanks. Especially the kids after that
new TV show came on."

"Oh?" said Mrs. Dorne. "Which one is that?"

"It ain't on no more," said the super, "but, boy, while it lasted the
kids sure got a kick out of it. That little Charlotte of mine, she's
going to be a real egghead."

"Well what kind of a show was it?"

"Reading," said the super. "Just reading. I ain't sure what they
called it, but I know there wasn't no sponsor. Maybe that's why it
lasted only two weeks or so. Some kind of test show I guess it was."

"I guess we missed it listening to something else. What channel was it
on?"

"Now that you mention it I'm darned if I remember," Chuck Seely said.
"The kids just come home from school one night and parked in front of
the TV like always and instead of the westerns and like that here's
this guy, just reading. It lasted about an hour every night, we
couldn't drag the kids away. Me and the wife got in the habit watching
it too."

"Was it Charles Laughton? He has a reading program."

"It wasn't him. I never saw the guy before, but what a voice! No
commercials, no scenery, no nothin' except this guy reading. Something
different every night, too. Stuff like Dickens and famous writers like
that. I never heard a voice like this guy had, you couldn't stop
listening. Then you know what he'd do at the end of the show?"

"What?"

"He'd tell the kids to go get a pencil and write down the names of
more books to get at the library. And you know what? The kids _do_ it.
That Charlotte, the other night she brings home some Shakespeare
stories for kids by a guy named Lamb. She makes me read 'em to her,
too. Get a load o' me reading Shakespeare. I got to admit they're
pretty good stories. That Charlotte's going to be a real egghead."

"We usually have our TV on around supper time. It's funny we missed
it."

"I checked TV Guide but it was not listed," said the super. "It was
some kind of test show. I guess this guy couldn't find a sponsor."

       *       *       *       *       *

A week after this incident Betty Randolph picked up the telephone and
said, "Hello?" It was Dot on the ground floor. Ed had phoned earlier
and said he'd be a little late. Betty felt relaxed and just in the
mood for some woman talk.

"Dot, you'll never guess where we were last night," she said. "We saw
My Fair Lady, imagine! Don't you envy me?"

There was a gasp at the other end of the line. "Betty Randolph, you
didn't! We've been on the waiting list for six months. Where in the
world did you get tickets?"

"That's the weird part of it. A messenger just delivered them to Ed in
the office one morning. They were in a plain envelope marked 'Mr.
Randolph' and a card inside said 'Hope you enjoy them--George.' Ed
thinks the messenger made a mistake and got the wrong building or
something because Ed's the only Randolph there. Anyway, by the time Ed
opened the envelope the messenger was gone. There wasn't anything to
do but use the tickets of course."

"Of all the luck! Maybe you and Ed've got a fairy Godmother or
something. What'd you do for a sitter?"

"Oh, we were nearly insane finding one. Jane and Tina were busy and we
knew you were away for the weekend. Fortunately we phoned this Mrs.
Mimms and she was available. Kenneth _loved_ her."

"Isn't she _nice_? That woman's a wonder with children. Dicky and Sue
are as good as gold when she's around and she always seems to be free
when you want her. She's so cheap, too, I don't see how the woman
lives."

"Glory we had a good time!" sighed Betty. "We had drinks and filet
mignon at a nice little place near the theater and forgot all about
kids for a while. It was like going on a date again. I had on my
red-and-gold dress I haven't worn for months and Ed kept telling me
how cute I looked...."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Zoom, zoom," the captain kept saying. The spaceship swooped in for a
landing on the crimson Martian sands. Captain Bobby Taylor took up a
position before the air-lock and briefed his second-in-command, Ronnie
Smith. "We're surrounded by enemy aliens, Smith," announced Captain
Taylor. "Better break out the death-ray pistols. Our mission is to
destroy every metal monster on this planet. Look at 'em come! They got
eight legs and sixteen wire arms...."

"Ah, cut it out, Bobby. I ain't playing science-fiction with you any
more. It ain't like you say at all."

"What's it like then, wise guy? I suppose _you_ been to Mars."

"Maybe I ain't," said Lt. Smith. "Anyways I know somebody that _has_."

"Yeah? Who?"

"Mrs. Mimms. She babysits with me when Mom and Dad go out. She's been
all over in space. Venus and all them other planets. She says there
ain't any monsters on any of 'em. There ain't _nuthin_ on Mars except
a little bitty grass and a lot of scientists from Earth."

"Mad scientists?" asked Captain Taylor hopefully.

"Nah, just scientists. She says we oughta forget about monsters and
play the right way. You know, like with atomic reactors and radar
communication and growing new kinds of food for Earth colonies."

"Ah I don't believe it. She'd hafta be from someplace in the future.
She'd hafta come here by time machine or something, wouldn't she?"

"That's what she did," Lt. Smith informed the captain. "She showed me
pictures to prove it. Pictures of her last vacation on the moon. You
oughta see what they done to the place. She's from the future, all
right."

"Then she ain't supposed to tell anybody about it, is she?"

Lt. Smith waved his hand airily. "She says it's OK to tell kids
because grownups wouldn't believe it anyway. Get your mother to let
her sit for you next time. She'll show you the pictures if you ask
her. Heck, it's no fun playing monsters now."

"Well, look," said Captain Taylor magnanimously, "supposing I let you
be Captain today. You can pretend any kind of stuff you want."

"OK," said the new Captain, and immediately postulated a gigantic
atomic reactor on the planet Pluto.

       *       *       *       *       *

The doctor had said Julie should not, but she had another cup of
coffee anyway. She drank it and then lit a cigarette. Immediately she
felt a twinge of the morning sickness and wisely snubbed it out in the
ashtray. She was so happy it almost didn't hurt at all. I'm pregnant
again, she thought, that's the important thing. Julie hugged herself
and thought again of Mrs. Mimms and her tea leaves. It was the
silliest thing, she told herself, you didn't base important decisions
on tea leaves. Not _tea_ leaves. It was right after the week Bill had
been having those queer dreams that they'd decided, well, to go ahead.
Julie remembered Bill's face as he sat on the edge of her bed
describing one of the dreams to her as she laid there.

"It was vivid as hell, honey," Bill had said. "Maybe I ought to give
up eating cheese sandwiches at night or something. It's like dreaming
on the installment plan. Every time I'm someplace different and some
guy in a weird suit is showing me around. Last night I could swear it
was somewhere in New York, only the buildings were a lot taller and
there were kind of triple-decker ramp things with nutty-looking cars
on them and the people all wore tight-fitting clothes. Then all of a
sudden we were down on what looked like the Battery and the guy showed
me a big cookie-shaped thing out in the harbor with planes that looked
like flying saucers landing and taking off from it. Hell, maybe it's
going to be George Humphry's kind of world after all a couple of
hundred years from now."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then a night or two later they'd gone out to a movie. She'd been lucky
to get Mrs. Mimms to sit with Georgie. After they got back Mrs. Mimms
had made some tea--_real_ tea she'd brought from her own apartment.
When she offered to tell their fortunes in the leaves, Julie began to
giggle ... until she saw Bill was taking it perfectly seriously. Maybe
it was the quiet way Mrs. Mimms had discussed their futures over the
brown leaves, as if she'd been there herself. Funny old duck.
Wonderful with Georgie, though; and the other girls swore by her. Bill
hadn't batted an eye when she predicted it would be a girl this time,
and perfectly healthy and all right.

Julie peeked into the bedroom where Georgie was sleeping and pulled
the blanket up under his chin. "According to Mrs. Mimms, my lad,
you'll be getting a baby sister soon," she whispered. Bill _had_
changed lately. Not so gloomy somehow, nicer. But _tea_ leaves, for
Heaven's sake, they couldn't have anything to do with....

She stopped trying to figure it out because the nausea returned. This
time it was bad and she had to run for the bathroom.

       *       *       *       *       *

The crisp directive--Zonally disguised as a contemporary telegram--was
forwarded to Mrs. Mimms on a Monday night. Although it bore the
Resident Destinyworker's address, it had come of course directly from
the Chief's office for the code word DESTWORK headed the message.
Decoded, it read:

     URGENT YOU CLOSE OUT PRESENT ASSIGNMENT IN DAY OR TWO.
     CONDITION 16 IN 22ND CENTURY APPROACHING CRISIS. IMPORTANT
     ALL AVAILABLE PERSONNEL BE CONCENTRATED. PICK-UP AT POINT OF
     ENTRY ACCORDING TO PROCEDURE. BRIEFING TO COME FROM KEY
     RESIDENTS. ALL VACATIONS AND LEAVES-OF-ABSENCE HEREWITH
     CANCELLED.

Mrs. Mimms sighed. It was always this way she reflected. Central was
perpetually short of experienced help. The younger Destinyworkers,
fresh from the colleges, always wanted to traipse off into the future
where nothing practical ever got done. Oh, they argued, you could
always read about the past if you wanted to and, anyway, since Direct
Influence on Historic Continuum was strictly forbidden, what was the
good of wandering around in musty yesterdays? Mrs. Mimms however knew
better and so did every other member of the small cadre of qualified
CPO's. A good CPO, a dedicated one, could always find loopholes in the
Destiny Code. The past _could_ be shaped in little ways even if the
organization _was_ powerless to stop major catastrophes.

At any rate orders were orders and Mrs. Mimms began to consider the
practical side of leaving Greenlawn. Packing was no problem. All CPO's
were required to be Translation Alert in half an hour if necessary,
inclusive of destroying all telltale evidence such as notes, papers,
etc. Her apparatus was in perfect working order and the rent for that
month was paid. Mrs. Mimms passed over these details quickly. She was
thinking: it was invariably the _priorees_ who suffered in emergency
conversions.

The case book labeled ACTIVE was open on the table. There were two
full pages alone of babysitting appointments she would have to cancel
not to speak of the more serious cases, some of which were Second and
Third Intensity. A heavy discouragement settled over Mrs. Mimms as she
sat down at the apparatus to check certain images as they came and
went on the screen. The Nortons, who hadn't been out for weeks, were
fighting again; that date would have to be canceled. The delinquent
attitude developing in the Bradley youngster was going to rob the
world of a great scientist unless Mr. Bradley's business got back on
its feet and he could spend more time with his son; Mrs. Mimms had a
simple campaign mapped out for this, but it would take time--more time
than she had left. Then there was the cocktail party the Haskells had
been planning for weeks and Frank Haskell's boss was going to be
there; Mrs. Mimms had left that date open especially because Frank's
mother who had promised to take the kids overnight was going to be
sick and they'd have to get someone to help her. And that teenage
picnic--there would be trouble unless she, and not someone else, were
chaperoning it.

She dared not think of the growing list of Third Intensities. Another
Condition Twelve in the far building and one developing on the floor
directly above. Crippled old Mrs. Schaefer on the ground floor who had
tried to commit suicide before with an overdose of sleeping
tablets--and might certainly try it again if Mrs. Mimms didn't spend a
few hours with her every week. And, as usual, on every assignment
after a few months had gone by, the exhausting sleep-beaming by
Destiny apparatus of the cases where she had no direct contact. There
was the young doctor on the third floor who was becoming addicted to
his own morphine supply. The campaign against Mrs. Jamison's frigidity
which would be getting results in a few weeks. And the theft of
company funds which the middle-aged clerk in B-18 was contemplating.

Yes, it was always the priorees who suffered on an incomplete
assignment. Not to speak of the Destinyworker involved. All the months
of careful work building up, an event here, a circumstance there,
only to let the delicate fabric slip back again into the impersonal
Historic Continuum. It wasn't fair, thought Mrs. Mimms. You were
suddenly transferred to another Time Zone and there was no one to
carry on. The answer from Central was always the same: NO AVAILABLE
PERSONNEL. Not even a trainee. Not even--

Then Mrs. Mimms remembered the young salesman. It had been a
particularly hectic day at Central. Mrs. Mimms and the Briefing
Officer were conferring in the Chief's Office when the Chief finally
pressed a buzzer in irritation and said, "He's still there? All right,
I'll see him if he can state his case in five minutes." There were
firm, tired lines around the Chief's full-lipped mouth. All day long
the Translation Rooms had smelled of over-ionized electrodes as
Destinyworkers arrived by the dozens from various Time Zones. Two
thirds of the entire Past Division was being recalled and reassigned
to a Condition 14 in the Twenty-Third--elimination of a teenage fad
which was getting out of hand in North America. The Chief had smiled
wanly as the young salesman shook hands and plunged into his sales
talk.

"I know how busy you are, sir; thank you for seeing me. My firm,
Duplicanicals Unlimited, believes it has the answer to your employment
problem. Frankly, it's so simple that I'm amazed you haven't called on
us to serve you before. Briefly, our plan is this. Your Operators go
into the various Time Zones as usual and lay the preliminary
groundwork (of course Duplicanicals _realizes_ there's no _real_
substitute for humanoid tactics at the outset of any case). Then,"
said the young man, bringing home his point triumphantly, "when the
human Operator is needed elsewhere, a new model, low-cost Duplicanical
takes over and carries on the work. Yes, every Duplicanical purchased
from our firm can release a Destinyworker for an assignment in another
Time Zone. A few basic specifications is all that our plant needs to
duplicate any Destinyworker down to--if I may say so--the slightest
detail. In emergencies, a simple photograph will do. Our skilled
craftsmen can deliver a finished model to your offices in a matter of
hours. Android construction guaranteed throughout at rock bottom
prices. Why, a child could follow the simple instructions enclosed
with every...."

But already the Chief had turned back to the map of North America; he
had smiled politely and told the salesman to leave any literature he
had with his secretary.

Mrs. Mimms made a decision.

She picked up the telephone and dialed a number. Even before the
Resident Destinyworker had time for a greeting, Mrs. Mimms said:

"George, I want to send a message to Central. Make it a flat
Priority-to-Present; there's no time to waste with a Zonal Relay
Letter. ATTENTION: CHIEF, DESTINYWORKERS, INC...."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was early evening when Eighty-One (Female, Duplicanical Pat.
Pending U17809) entered the apartment and carefully set down the two
black suitcases. For an hour she had been seated on the bus which had
carried her from the address in New York out to Greenlawn. All the
while she had been smiling faintly as per Similarity Instruction 3.

Eighty-One's cybertechnic brain hummed smoothly as she unpacked the
bags and set up the Destiny apparatus (Work Instruction 17). Although
she was neither cold nor hot, she removed the plain brown coat (Human
Function 55). From Eighty-One's chest there came the nearly
imperceptible ticking of her rotary stabilizer; it lessened slightly
when she sat down at the desk as the take-up tension relaxed on key
bearings.

From one of the black suitcases she took a copy of _The
Destinyworker's Manual & Guide_ and also a photocopy of a notebook
marked ACTIVE. She opened both books simultaneously and began to read.
Without a glance at the bed behind her, she turned the pages slowly
and uniformly until next morning when the books were finished.
Word-for-word copies of them were now lightly etched on the tape reels
behind her deftly molded Pigma-Foam forehead, and even now were being
fed into the Action-and-Motion Editor at the base of her Myoplastic
skull.

Satisfied, Eighty-One raised her hand in Female Instinctive Function
14 and smoothed her graying Spun-Tex hair, feeling the hard stitching
on the scalp beneath.

Then the telephone rang and Eighty-One picked it up.

"This is Clair Howard in C-12, Mrs. Mimms. I'm so shamed to ask on
such short notice but I'm _desperate_ for a sitter tomorrow afternoon.
Can you possibly come over?"

"Why of course," answered the Duplicanical.

       *       *       *       *       *





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