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´╗┐Title: You Too Can Be A Millionaire
Author: Loomis, Noel Miller, 1905-1969
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 "You Too Can Be A Millionaire" ***

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                   YOU TOO CAN BE A MILLIONAIRE

                          By Noel Loomis

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science
Fiction November 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence
that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _Money was worthless, yet no man dared go broke. It was all
pretty confusing to Mark until "Point-Plus-Pearlie" told him--YOU TOO
CAN BE A MILLIONAIRE _]


[Illustration: _Life had become a mad scramble for points._]


Mark Renner looked anxiously backward as he ran up the street to the
place where the faded gold lettering on one window said "Jewelry." That
would be a good place to hide, he thought. Most of the plate-glass
windows and doors along the street were broken out as in fact they were
everywhere, and had been for twenty years--but one of the jewelry
windows and the door, protected by iron grating, were still whole and
would help to conceal him.

With one final glance back at the corner, he climbed the grating,
scuttled across it, and dropped down. Then, keeping low, he ducked in
among the dusty old counters and stopped abruptly, listening.

He heard Conley's slow, slapping footsteps as the tall man rounded the
corner and came up the street. He forced himself to breathe softly in
spite of the pounding of his heart. The dust rose a little around him
and got in his nostrils and he wanted to sneeze, but by sheer willpower
he choked it down.

Conley was from the Machine--Central Audit Bureau--and the Machine knew
by now that Mark was three thousand points in the red. Three thousand
points--when you were supposed to be always within one day's point of a
balance. You were allowed twelve hundred points a day, so Mark was now
two and a half days in debit.

He'd been walking the streets in a sort of daze, signing slips right and
left while his own pad of slips stayed in his pocket. He hadn't cared,
either, until now, because in this brave new world of the one
freedom--freedom from work--he was abominably unhappy.

Everybody struggled all day to get enough points to stay even with
Central, and what good did it do them? You got even one day, but the
next day you had to start all over. There wasn't any point to it. So
he'd said to hell with it, and for five days now he'd ignored the
Machine entirely except to line up automatically once a day at the
concourse to have his card audited. And for five straight days the
balance had been in red.

Then, today, he had seen Conley on the street, coming toward him. All of
a sudden Mark had been scared. He didn't know what Central would do to
him--nobody knew--but he didn't want to find out, either. He ran from
Conley.

Now he crouched in the dust behind an empty counter while Conley's
footsteps approached. He held his breath when they got close, and when
they passed the broken window he was very thankful.

It was late afternoon and he thought Conley would go back to Central.
Nobody knew much about Conley except that he represented the Machine and
that he seemed to disappear within it every afternoon.

So, presently, Mark crawled out of the broken window and walked down to
Main Street. He looked carefully right and left and then, not seeing
Conley's tall form above the traffic, he wandered slowly down the
street, trying to figure things out. Why wasn't there anything worth
while to do? What was the reason for all the broken windows and empty
stores? Had there once been places where people could buy things like
food and clothes? Maybe--before Central Audit Bureau had come into
existence. Or had Central always been there?

Mark saw the old lady sitting in the wheel-chair. He turned out absently
to walk by her. He saw her put her foot in his way but his brain wasn't
working. He stumbled over her foot.

Instantly the old lady half arose from her chair as if in pain,
shrieking and brandishing her cane, the leg held stiffly out in front of
her. "You've injured me," she shrieked in a raucous voice. "You've hurt
my lame foot!"

Mark stood there dumbly. He was a young man and so he didn't at once
foresee what was about to happen.

A crowd gathered in no time. The old lady was putting on a show. Mark
didn't get it. He would have allowed her a thousand points--even fifteen
hundred--without argument. But he got the shock of his young life.

"Thirty thousand points!" she screamed at him, and thrust a pad of slips
at him. "Sign my slip, please."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mark took the pad automatically. He took the pencil she held out. He
started to sign. He'd never get a credit balance at the Central Bureau
now, but he didn't care. Maybe he'd get in so deep they'd give him some
work.

The old lady's voice rose unexpectedly. "My feelings are hurt, too. He
did it deliberately. Five thousand points for my injured feelings."

Dazedly Mark wrote down "Thirty-five thousand and no more," and signed
his name. He handed the pad back to her and started on. The crowd was
leaving.

But a voice stopped him. A soft voice. "Wait, son." He looked back. He
started to go on, then he saw the old lady's eyes on his. "Stick
around," she said. There wasn't any raucousness in her voice now. "Wait
till the crowd goes. I want to talk to you."

Presently he was walking beside her while she laboriously operated the
two big hand-wheels that propelled the chair. Two blocks away she turned
into an empty building marked "Groceries." Mark helped her cross the
threshold.

Inside, she amazed him by springing out of the chair and standing quite
steadily. She was small and she wasn't as old and wrinkled as he had
thought. "You get in the chair," she said. "I'll push you. I need the
exercise."

A minute later she was pushing him briskly along the street while Mark
sat, still half dazed, in the wicker chair, her old red shawl was across
his lap.

"Get cramps in my legs, to say nothing of my bottom," she observed,
"sitting there all day." She saw him stiffen. "Oh, you needn't be
shocked. After all, I'm old enough to be your grandmother. I was born in
1940, you know."

"Nineteen-forty," Mark repeated, wonderingly. "Gee, that was back in the
days when everybody worked. I wish _I_ could work."

"Well, it's a changed world," she observed. "In those days, you _had_ to
work."

At that instant Mark heard the ominous slapping footsteps. He looked
ahead, and there was Conley, easily noticeable because of the type N hat
a head above everybody else, coming toward them. Mark snatched up the
red shawl and wrapped it around his face to the nose and pulled his hat
low over his eyes. He watched from under the type L brim while Conley
approached. He held his breath while Conley fixed his deep eyes on him
for a moment, but Conley went by, and once more he was safe.

The old lady trotted briskly along. They passed a few people who stared
at them, but Mark was thinking. "This is 2021," he observed. "You're
eighty-one years old. You must know all about things."

"I'm quite spry," she pointed out, "though I must say I am working up a
sweat right now. No, no--" She pushed Mark back into the chair. "It's
good for me. Don't get enough exercise any more. Now you just sit there.
You're in a bad way. Anybody who'd fall for such a phony act and release
thirty-five thousand points without even an argument--well, of course,"
she said archly, "I do have a well-turned ankle."

But the enormity of Mark's debit with Central when the old lady should
turn in his slip, began to worry him. He wondered if he could get it
back from her. He wasn't happy with the world, and things were all
wrong, and all that, but still--well, he did have to live in it.
Thirty-five thousand points. He began to worry. He wished he knew what
the penalty would be. He wondered if the old lady knew. What were these
points all about anyway? "You must know," he said, "how the world got
into this mess."

She chuckled, "For thirty-five thousand points, I guess you've got a
right to the story." She turned into the archway of a standard type B
apartment house.

He wondered what she would do with all those points. What did anybody do
with them? Everybody had about the same living quarters. Food was
furnished by automatic vendors at the Hydroponic Farms. Clothes were
provided, ready-made; all you had to do was put your credit card in a
machine, punch the buttons for your measurements, and a suit would drop
down the chute.

Mark got out of the chair and helped her inside with it. He took off his
hat and started uncertainly to leave, but she put her hand on his arm,
"No, no. Have supper with me. I'll tell you all about everything. Glad
to. There aren't many who want to know about things any more."

Her apartment was neat and clean. It was hard for Mark to connect it
with an old woman shrieking points at him. "My name's Pearl.
Point-Plus-Pearlie, they call me. But my real name's Penelope. You can
call me Penelope."

"Thank you," Mark said gravely, and sat down. Penelope bustled into an
apron and began pulling packages from the freezer. "We'll have a feed,
you and I--a real feed." She chuckled pleasantly. "After all, you're
paying for it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mark squirmed uncomfortably.

"I'll tell you how all this started," Penelope said, popping open a can
of high-content protein. "Back before you were born there were insurance
companies. At first they were started to insure your life, and--"

"Your life!" Mark frowned. "How--"

"Never mind. Also, they insured you against loss by fire. Then it was
loss by collision of vehicles--you've never seen an auto, of course--and
so on. Finally they got to insuring you against hurting yourself when
you slipped on a cake of soap in the bathtub, and then they insured
against a suit for damages by someone who might stub his toe and fall
down and break a leg on your sidewalk. Follow me?"

"I think so," said Mark doubtfully.

"Well, there were all kinds of lawsuits. Two men would be in an
accident. Both hurt. Their insurance companies would sue each other.
Suppose A knocked over a ladder and B fell down on top of him. B's fall
broke A's arm and it broke his own leg. A could sue B for breaking his
arm. B could sue A for making him fall. Well, suppose A was insured by
company X, and B was insured by company Y. A and B filed claims against
each other's companies, and everybody went to court."

"You mean they didn't agree on damages?" Mark asked incredulously.

"Exactly." Penelope cut off the top of a bottle of enzymes. "It was
pretty dumb. But pretty soon the companies got wise. They formed working
agreements.

"When two companies carried insurance on two persons involved in an
accident, the companies just presented their claims to each other, and
the one with the biggest claim against him paid the difference, while
each company paid off the claim of the one it represented. You can see
what eventually happened."

She punched a button and a dinette table popped out of the wall.

"Companies insured people for more and more types of damage, even
against being insulted or against a claim for damages for being
insulted. The big companies eliminated the small ones, and it was just a
matter of bookkeeping among those that were left. Eventually the
government took it over."

"But look," said Mark, "I don't see--"

"Don't rush me." Penelope put a can into the container-dissolver and
punched the button that set out the plates and silverware on the tiny
table. "You see, pretty soon everybody was insured for everything
possible. People were collecting right and left, mostly small amounts
but lots of them. But it took quite a bit of time to file claims and so
on. And also, a man spent all he made buying insurance to protect
himself. It was a wicked circle. Nobody could quit buying insurance and
nobody dared quit filing claims. That's when the government took over.
They simplified things. Once a day you turn your slips into Central and
the Machine audits your account. That's all there is to it."

"But there's nothing else to do," Mark objected. "No entertainment, no
work."

"Why should there be entertainment? Entertainment means work for
somebody. No, Central--which is the government, of course--has
eliminated work for everybody and at the same time has provided
something to keep everybody busy. What work must be done is done by
automatic, self-lubricating, self-repairing, self-renewing machinery."
She sighed. "It's a brave new world. Everything is neatly worked out.
Everybody spends all their time gathering points to offset the points
they lose gathering points--and nobody seems to mind except a few rebels
like you and me. I saw that rebellious look in your eyes when you signed
my slip. That's why I invited you to come along with me. But, as I said,
Central keeps everybody busy all day and half the night trying to
balance themselves. There's no labor problem, no unemployment, no
relief, no worry about anything." She paused, to dip the vitamins out of
the dissolver. "The only catch is--it's so damned monotonous."

Mark blinked, but Penelope whirled on him, the dissolver in one hand.
"Why do you think I sit out there and put on my act all day long? Not to
get points, though I confess the points are the measure of my
success--but because life is too dull otherwise." She dished out the
vitamins.

"You say the government did all this?"

"Yes."

A thought struck Mark. "Who is the government?"

Penelope was filling glasses from the ice-water faucet. She turned her
head and stared at him like a bright-eyed bird. "To tell you the truth,
Mark, as far as I know the men who used to make up the government
disappeared after the last war, about the time all this automatic
machinery was put in. We used to have an election every so often, but I
haven't heard that word for twenty-five years. Do you know what I
think?"

"No," Mark said attentively.

"I don't think there is any more government!" Penelope said
dramatically. "I think all that's left are the Machine and Central Audit
Bureau--which is nothing but a giant posting machine."

"Have you seen it--Central, I mean? I see the concourse where we line up
every day to have our cards posted--but what's behind those twelve
hundred windows?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She nodded briskly. "I saw it from one of the last planes. Central
covers miles and miles in both directions. They said then it was the
biggest machine on earth--and do you know, Mark"--she paused
dramatically--"I think the Machine is the government! Roll up your
chair, Mark."

Mark did. "But doesn't there have to be somebody to take care of the
Machine?" he asked, holding her chair.

"Not that I know of. They said it was perfect--that barring an
earthquake it would run for a thousand years without a human hand."

The iron-juice cocktail was pretty good, the way Penelope had flavored
it with enzymes. But Mark inevitably got back to the thing that worried
him. "What will happen when that release slip of mine goes through for
thirty-five thousand points?"

Penelope raised her white eyebrows. "I don't know, but undoubtedly
something drastic. I'll tell you what. I'll hold your slip for a while
and you go out and see if you can get some points on your credit side.
Stir up a little trouble. Get the points first and argue after."...

Mark went out and tried to get some points next day, but he couldn't
seem to get his heart in his work. It was all so pointless. Why couldn't
the old lady give him back that slip, anyway? Mark got pretty much in
the dumps, and after he managed to get his foot stepped on and demanded
three hundred points, only to be countered by a claim of four hundred
for hurting the other man's instep, he began to feel very low indeed.

At the end of the week he was walking slowly along the street watching
for Conley, because he was getting further in the red every day, when he
saw a foot stuck out in his way and heard a voice say, "Don't you
stumble over my lame foot," and he looked up and saw the old lady. Her
black eyes were soft. "You don't look happy, Mark."

"No." He held out his card.

"Hm." Her keen old eyes shot back to his. "Thirty-two hundred in the
red. That's more than before. You've lost two hundred points this week,
Mark."

"I know," he said dully.

"Here. Push me, Mark." She pulled the shawl around her and Mark started
pushing the wheel-chair. "You're a nice boy," she said when they reached
a quiet street. "You just can't adjust yourself to this modern world."

"I want a job," Mark said stubbornly. "Something to do besides--well,
some kind of mark to aim at, I guess. This point business is just
putting in time. I'm not creating anything. Even if I could fasten
zippers on feather-beds, I'd be doing something worth while, because
it'd be used. But this way of living is like digging a hole and then
filling it in again. Why, you don't even dare to get into a fight.
Somebody would collect a thousand points every time you hit him. The
standard price of a black eye is three thousand. You have to be pretty
careful about things like that. And there's always Conley."

"Well," Penelope said, "I'm going to make you a proposition. I'll hold
up your slip for sixty days, and in the meantime I'll teach you how to
get ahead of the game. I'll teach you the tricks of the trade, just as
old Point-a-Minute Charlie taught me. They say he averaged a point a
minute all his life."

"Where is he now?" asked Mark, interested.

The old lady pondered. "Come to think of it, I don't know. I remember
the last time I talked to him his credit balance was 98,000." She
frowned at the tremendous, low-lying dome that covered the horizon in
the distance and marked Central Audit Bureau. "I haven't seen him since
then."

"Hm," said Mark.

"Well, now," Penelope said briskly. "I'll make you a regular business
deal. I'll teach you, and for all you get, you give me twenty per cent.
See how many you can get. Try for ten thousand. That'll give you
something to shoot at."

"Maybe I can beat the Machine," Mark said eagerly.

Penelope swallowed. "They say you can't beat the Machine. But I guess it
won't hurt to try."

Mark did well. At first he just walked down the street stopping people
as fast as he could get to them. "You didn't recognize me, sir," he
would say indignantly. "I met you at Central concourse two years ago.
Remember? You stood right in front of me in line for three hours, and we
talked about our new suits. Remember? My feelings are injured because
you ignored me just now. Fifty points. Will you sign my slip, please?"

His credit reached the black the first week. He was netting five hundred
points a day, and it was fun, but Penelope said, "We'll go for bigger
stakes. This is kindergarten stuff. Now here's the way you start...."

       *       *       *       *       *

So the next morning Mark managed to get himself knocked down four times,
and each time he came up with a skinned knee and collected from five
hundred to eight hundred and fifty points. He was learning, Penelope
assured him when he gleefully showed her his card at the end of the day.
Mark was elated. That day he had gathered fifty-one hundred points.

"But this can get monotonous, too," Penelope said. "Anyway, you can't go
around forever with a sandpapered knee. You're learning fast, and you're
learning right. Old Point-a-Minute Charlie was the best there was, in
his day, and he always said you make more points guessing character than
you do falling down. Know your victim before you have an accident, and
then hit him for all he will pay and hit him quick--the way I did you."
She chuckled. "My commission for today is one thousand and twenty
points. Here, sign my slip, please."

Mark signed. It was a cheap price to pay for the fact that life was no
longer pointless. He decided he'd try to gather a credit of one hundred
thousand points.

He worked on bigger stuff. He didn't try just everybody. He picked his
signers with care. He slept until nine every morning and he and Penelope
played two-handed bridge at a tenth of a point a point until midnight.
He felt sorry for the poor suckers who had to get out at sunup and tread
the sidewalks until dark to get enough points to satisfy Central. They
were working like slaves, while he was living the life of Point-a-Minute
Charlie.

It was a lovely existence. He forgot about Penelope's slip for
thirty-five thousand. He could almost pay it off anyway. Then came the
day when he pulled his grand coup.

He spent a week planning it, with Penelope's shrewd advice. He
remembered what she had said about the man on the ladder in the
nineteen-forties. He sandpapered his back and painted an irregular spot
with merthiolate and iodine, and practiced twisting his back until it
looked out of shape. Then he went out and watched for an absent-minded,
nervous, excitable-looking man to try his next effort on.

Penelope's biggest advice was, "Preparation is half the points," so it
was three days before Mark found the right person. After he found him it
was very simple. He signaled Penelope to follow, and then he walked
behind the man until they came to a high curb.

Mark moved out to the left. The man started to step up on the curb. Mark
darted across in front of the man just as the man raised his foot. Mark
managed to stumble exactly in front of the man. His arms went out and
one hand caught the little man's leg. The little man fell squarely on
top of him, assisted by a slight push from Penelope.

Mark groaned heart-breakingly. In a moment there was a crowd. The little
man was getting up, bewildered, and automatically trying to dust off his
type K suit. Mark lay half on the curb, half off, squirming like a
broken-back snake. "My back," he moaned piteously. "Oh, my back."

The little man seemed paralyzed at the enormity of the thing he had
done. He stared at Mark and Mark squirmed harder and moaned louder. Then
Penelope hobbled up and pulled Mark's shirttail out of his trousers. The
iodine spot on his back looked yellow and purple, and there were gasps
from the crowd.

"He did it!" Mark said, glaring accusingly at the little man. "He
tripped me. He tripped me and broke my back!"

Penelope was putting on a good act too, crying and wringing her hands
and moaning. "My poor boy!" she said, over and over. A woman in the
crowd came up and made a very expressive raspberry in the little man's
face. The little man was not only bewildered; he was frightened. Mark
adjudged the time had come.

"Points for my broken back!" he cried. Penelope held out a slip to the
little man. He signed it dazedly, then he slipped out of the crowd,
while three men picked up Mark and laid him tenderly in Penelope's
reclining wheel-chair.

Mark could hardly contain himself. As soon as they were safely out of
sight he said excitedly, "Let me see the slip."

Penelope looked around. She kept pushing him but she handed over the
slip.

"Fifty thousand points!" Mark read under his breath. "Isn't that
wonderful!" He couldn't remember ever having felt so elated in his life.

Penelope was shaking her head wonderingly. "That was a good act," she
said. "I'd never have had the nerve to try that myself."

"Oh, that's nothing." Mark was enthusiastic. "As soon as I get fitted up
with a magnelite brace so it'll look good, I'm going to knock a piece
out of that curbing, and then if I can find out who's the registered
owner of it I'll hit him for twenty-five thousand."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mark got the twenty-five thousand. The owner of the sidewalk was finally
convinced that Mark's broken back was worth a lot. From then on there
was no holding Mark. Pretending to act for the little man who had
originally knocked him down, he located the woman who had made a
raspberry in the little man's face and collected another two thousand;
the woman didn't recognize Mark, because Mark's features were changed a
little.

Then Mark spotted two others who had made threatening noises and
collected five hundred from each, and from another who expressed doubt
that he was really hurt, Mark got a thousand points. There was nothing
to it, really. Most people had regular beats, and all Mark had to do was
sit at one side in Penelope's wheel-chair and wait for them to come by.
He would have collected more if he could have remembered more faces. He
saw Conley go by once a day but now he wasn't afraid. He thought Conley
looked at him disappointedly.

A couple of weeks later he got his card back from the Machine at Central
and looked at it with great satisfaction. He had a hundred and thirteen
thousand points to his credit. He met Penelope and they went to her
apartment for dinner. Jubilantly Mark got all the fancy food--even some
synthetic meat--that he could get on his card, and they prepared for a
feast.

"The only thing is," Penelope said as she punched the dishes on the
table, "I'm scared. I have a feeling you shouldn't have gone over a
hundred thousand."

"Is that why you never cashed my slip for thirty-five thousand?"

She nodded. "That's mostly the reason. My balance is over eighty
thousand and I was afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"I don't know. Just afraid."

"Well," said Mark, "I'm not. I don't see what Central can do to a person
for getting points. There's no rule against it."

"It's dangerous," Penelope insisted.

"Nevertheless, I have made a decision. A hundred thousand points--that's
nothing." His head was high. "I'm going after a million points!"

Penelope gasped. "Mark, you mustn't do anything like that. You have no
use for a million points."

"No," Mark said complacently, "but it's a lot of fun getting them. And
it gives me something worth while to do. We'll sit up till three o'clock
every morning and play bridge, and I'll stay in bed till noon, and dream
up new stunts. I'll pull one a week. Life is going to be worth living."

The announcing light showed at the door. Penelope pressed the admittance
button. A tall, thin man came in a moment later. "Mark Renner?" he
asked.

Mark jumped. "Conley!" Mark's stomach had a funny feeling in it.

"They told me I would find you here," Conley said.

Penelope had recovered enough to gasp. "What do you want?"

"I'm from Central Audit Bureau."

"That's just lovely," Penelope said, "but it doesn't mean anything to us
but a place where we get our cards balanced."

"It should mean something to you," Conley said hollowly. "Central is the
government."

Penelope stared at him. "Sit down, please. I thought Central was just a
machine."

"It is something more than a machine. There is a small corps of persons
who live inside the machine to service it and occasionally adjust it,
and those persons really are the government--that is, all the government
we have." He sat down stiffly, his back straight. "Now then, Mr. Renner,
your card today showed a credit balance of a hundred and thirteen
thousand points. Is that correct?"

Mark swallowed. "Yes." He looked at Penelope. She was pale. With
difficulty Mark asked, "Is it your job to check up on people, to see if
they are entitled to their points?"

"Oh, my, no. Central doesn't care about that. In fact, Central doesn't
care how much anybody's debit is. We figure as long as a man is in debt
he'll try to pay it off. They always do, at least. No, we never bother
with debits, and I don't suppose we ever would."

Mark breathed a sigh of relief.

"But a credit of over a hundred thousand is something else," said
Conley. "The machines won't handle six figures without trouble, you see,
so there has to be a penalty." He looked very sad. "Now, then, I shall
have to--"

"Wait!" cried Penelope. "His credit is a hundred and thirteen
thousand--but I have his slip for thirty-five thousand. If I turn it in,
that would fix it up for him, wouldn't it."

Mark felt a warm wave of gratitude toward Penelope. She was a million
per cent; no question about it.

"Well--yes, I suppose so. We don't like these last-minute adjustments,
but I suppose--"

       *       *       *       *       *

She came waving the slip and thrust it into Conley's face.

"There!" she said triumphantly. "Put that on my account."

Conley looked a little sad. "This is your slip?" he asked Mark.

Mark nodded gratefully.

"Let me have your credit card, Miss Penelope. Now, then, I'll transfer
these points--hm." Conley's eyebrows raised. "Do you know what your
balance is now, Miss Penelope?"

Penelope's mouth shot open and she popped her hand across it.

"You have now a hundred and twenty-two thousand," Conley said. He got up
from his chair. "Well, I'm sorry, folks. That's the way it is."

Mark gulped. "What way?"

"Miss Penelope will have to come with me."

Mark was on his feet. "If she goes, I go," he said dramatically.

Conley looked at him. "If you feel that way about it, there won't be any
trouble at all. You did go over, so I can take you in too."

"In where?" Penelope demanded.

"A certain number of persons is required to keep Central going, as I
said--actually to be the government. But most of the population today is
so apathetic they wouldn't be of any use at all, so years ago some of us
who were in Central got an idea. We discovered that whenever any citizen
rebels against the monotony of life today, he or she eventually winds up
trying to gather a lot of points, because that is the only outlet for
energy and ambition. That is the kind of person we need, so when anybody
gets over a hundred thousand, the machine warns us. We go after them."
Conley picked up his type N hat. "Well, see you in the morning. Punch in
your cards at window 1000. We'll do the rest. And by the way--" He was
at the door. "We start work at eight o'clock."

Mark brightened. "Did you say _work_?"

"Oh, it's only four hours a day, five days a week. The rest of the time
is your own, only of course you can't come Outside. It would upset
things if the general public learned about us. Yes, it's a regular job;
not hard work, but steady work. Gives you something to aim for; there
are promotions, you know, and extra bonuses for those who show promise."

"Work!" Mark said. "Steady work? You mean there'll be something to do
all the time?"

"Five days a week," said Conley.

Mark said, "This is so sudden. Why don't you sit down a minute while we
let it soak in? We have plenty of enzymes and stuff for a guest, don't
we, Miss Penelope? Why not stay for supper, Conley?"

"No, thanks," said Conley. "We have beefsteak and hot biscuits for
supper in Central."

Penelope shrieked with joy. "Beef!"

Mark was puzzled. "What's that?"

"It's an old-fashioned food," said Conley. "Rather tasty too."

"Please sit down," Penelope begged, "and tell us more."

Conley looked at his watch. "Believe I will. My feet get a little tired
all day from pounding the pavement. But there isn't much more to tell.
You'll find out everything tomorrow. And I'm sure you'll like it. We try
to give each person work to challenge him."

"What if a person wouldn't want to go to Central?"

"Very few ever object. Once in a while they are afraid and run away, but
we just register their number with all the machines, and whenever that
number is presented for food or clothes, the machines reject the card."
He paused. "A very neat arrangement. Of course, inside of Central the
point system as you know it now will be of no value whatever. We use
money in Central."

Penelope had a can of synthetic meat in her hands. "Beef!" she said
suddenly, and hurled the can into the disintichute. "I'm going to starve
all night so I can enjoy eating tomorrow."

"So nobody ever gets away?" asked Mark.

"Very seldom, though there's one fellow playing a game with Central. He
must have gotten wind of us, and he keeps careful check on his points.
About once every three months he starts going strong. He'll be putting
in eight or ten thousand points a day. Then his balance will shoot up
over a hundred thousand and I'll go after him, but he's always just
signed away a lot of points. Would you believe it, the last time he had
given away fifty thousand points to a fellow who claimed a broken back.
He said he knew it was a phony, but he had me there and he laughed at
me, for he had signed away the points. The slip showed up next day."

Mark looked at Penelope and grinned. "We should have known that nobody
in his right mind would give away fifty thousand points."

Conley raised his hand in a salute. "See you tomorrow at Central. If
they don't keep you busy, look me up."

Mark watched him leave. Then he looked beamingly at Penelope. "Work!
Every day! Eight o'clock! We'll have to get up before breakfast! Isn't
it wonderful?"

But Penelope's bird-like eyes were bright. "He said there would be
promotions and bonuses for those who show promise," she recalled. "I
wish we had known that. We could have made a cleanup and gone into
Central with a record that would make their eyes pop out. Anyhow"--she
dug her pad of release blanks out of her pocket and began to figure on
the back. "Let's see, fifty thousand from the little man who's playing a
game with Central, twenty-five from the owner of the sidewalk, two
thousand for the raspberry, five hundred each from two who made noises
of disrespect, and a thousand from the man who doubted that your back
was really broken. You could have collected two thousand from that last
one," she said absently, "if you hadn't got cold feet. Anyway, that's
seventy-nine thousand points. Now, then, twenty per cent of that is
fifteen thousand, eight hundred points."

She wrote rapidly and held out the pad to Mark. "Sign my slip, please."





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