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´╗┐Title: Shipping Clerk
Author: Morrison, William Douglas
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 "Shipping Clerk" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                            Shipping Clerk

                          By WILLIAM MORRISON

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                   Galaxy Science Fiction June 1952.
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



             If Ollie knew the work he was doing, he would
              have resigned--if resigning were possible!


If there had ever been a time when Ollie Keith hadn't been hungry, it
was so far in the past that he couldn't remember it. He was hungry now
as he walked through the alley, his eyes shifting lusterlessly from one
heap of rubbish to the next. He was hungry through and through, all
one hundred and forty pounds of him, the flesh distributed so gauntly
over his tall frame that in spots it seemed about to wear through, as
his clothes had. That it hadn't done so in forty-two years sometimes
struck Ollie as in the nature of a miracle.

He worked for a junk collector and he was unsuccessful in his present
job, as he had been at everything else. Ollie had followed the first
part of the rags-to-riches formula with classic exactness. He had been
born to rags, and then, as if that hadn't been enough, his parents had
died, and he had been left an orphan. He should have gone to the big
city, found a job in the rich merchant's counting house, and saved the
pretty daughter, acquiring her and her fortune in the process.

It hadn't worked out that way. In the orphanage where he had spent so
many unhappy years, both his food and his education had been skimped.
He had later been hired out to a farmer, but he hadn't been strong
enough for farm labor, and he had been sent back.

His life since then had followed an unhappy pattern. Lacking strength
and skill, he had been unable to find and hold a good job. Without a
good job, he had been unable to pay for the food and medical care, and
for the training he would have needed to acquire strength and skill.
Once, in the search for food and training, he had offered himself to
the Army, but the doctors who examined him had quickly turned thumbs
down, and the Army had rejected him with contempt. They wanted better
human material than that.

How he had managed to survive at all to the present was another
miracle. By this time, of course, he knew, as the radio comic put it,
that he wasn't long for this world. And to make the passage to another
world even easier, he had taken to drink. Rot gut stilled the pangs of
hunger even more effectively than inadequate food did. And it gave
him the first moments of happiness, spurious though they were, that he
could remember.

Now, as he sought through the heaps of rubbish for usable rags or
redeemable milk bottles, his eyes lighted on something unexpected.
Right at the edge of the curb lay a small nut, species indeterminate.
If he had his usual luck, it would turn out to be withered inside, but
at least he could hope for the best.

       *       *       *       *       *

He picked up the nut, banged it futilely against the ground, and then
looked around for a rock with which to crack it. None was in sight.
Rather fearfully, he put it in his mouth and tried to crack it between
his teeth. His teeth were in as poor condition as the rest of him, and
the chances were that they would crack before the nut did.

The nut slipped and Ollie gurgled, threw his hands into the air and
almost choked. Then he got it out of his windpipe and, a second later,
breathed easily. The nut was in his stomach, still uncracked. And
Ollie, it seemed to him, was hungrier than ever.

The alley was a failure. His life had been a progression from rags to
rags, and these last rags were inferior to the first. There were no
milk bottles, there was no junk worth salvaging.

At the end of the alley was a barber shop, and here Ollie had a great
and unexpected stroke of luck. He found a bottle. The bottle was no
container for milk and it wasn't empty. It was standing on a small
table near an open window in the rear of the barber shop. Ollie found
that he could get it by simply stretching out his long, gaunt arm for
it, without climbing in through the window at all.

He took a long swig, and then another. The liquor tasted far better
than anything he had ever bought.

When he returned the bottle to its place, it was empty.

Strangely enough, despite its excellent quality, or perhaps, he
thought, _because_ of it, the whiskey failed to have its usual effect
on him. It left him completely sober and clear-eyed, but hungrier than
ever.

In his desperation, Ollie did something that he seldom dared to do. He
went into a restaurant, not too good a restaurant or he would never
have been allowed to take a seat, and ordered a meal he couldn't pay
for.

He knew what would happen, of course, after he had eaten. He would
put on an act about having lost his money, but that wouldn't fool the
manager for more than one second. If the man was feeling good and
needed help, he'd let Ollie work the price out washing dishes. If he
was a little grumpy and had all the dishwashers he needed, he'd have
them boot the tar out of Ollie and then turn him over to the police.

The soup was thick and tasty, although tasty in a way that no gourmet
would have appreciated. The mess was food, however, and Ollie gulped it
down gratefully. But it did nothing to satisfy his hunger. Likewise,
the stew had every possible leftover thrown into it, and none of it
gave Ollie any feeling of satisfaction. Even the dessert and the muddy
coffee left him as empty as before.

The waiter had been in the back room with the cook. Now Ollie saw him
signal to the manager, and watched the manager hasten back. He closed
his eyes. They were onto him; there was no doubt about it. For a
moment he considered trying to get out of the front door before they
closed in, but there was another waiter present, keeping an eye on the
patrons, and he knew that he would never make it. He took a deep breath
and waited for the roof to fall in on him.

He heard the manager's foot-steps and opened his eyes. The manager
said, "Uh--look, bud, about that meal you ate--"

"Not bad," observed Ollie brightly.

"Glad you liked it."

He noticed little beads of sweat on the manager's forehead, and
wondered what had put them there. He said, "Only trouble is, it ain't
fillin'. I'm just as hungry as I was before."

"It didn't fill you up, huh? That's too bad. I'll tell you what I'll
do. Rather than see you go away dissatisfied, I won't charge you for
the meal. Not a cent."

Ollie blinked. This made no sense whatever. All the same, if not for
the gnawing in his stomach, he would have picked himself up and run. As
it was, he said, "Thanks. Guess in that case I'll have another order of
stew. Maybe this time it'll stick to my ribs."

"Not the stew," replied the manager nervously. "You had the last that
was left. Try the roast beef."

"Hmm, that's more than I was gonna spend."

"No charge," said the manager. "For you, no charge at all."

"Then gimme a double order. I feel starved."

The double order went down the hatch, yet Ollie felt just as empty as
ever. But he was afraid to press his luck too far, and after he had
downed one more dessert--also without charge--he reluctantly picked
himself up and walked out. He was too hungry to spend any more time
wondering why he had got a free meal.

In the back room of the restaurant, the manager sank weakly into a
chair. "I was afraid he was going to insist on paying for it. Then we'd
really have been on a spot."

"Guess he was too glad to get it for free," the cook said.

"Well, if anything happens to him now, it'll happen away from here."

"Suppose they take a look at what's in his stomach."

"He still won't be able to sue us. What did you do with the rest of
that stew?"

"It's in the garbage."

"Cover it up. We don't want dead cats and dogs all over the place.
And next time you reach for the salt, make sure there isn't an insect
powder label on it."

"It was an accident; it could happen to anybody," said the cook
philosophically. "You know, maybe we shouldn't have let that guy go
away. Maybe we ought to have sent him to a doctor."

"And pay his bills? Don't be a sap. From now on, he's on his own.
Whatever happens to him, we don't know anything about it. We never saw
him before."

       *       *       *       *       *

The only thing that was happening to Ollie was that he was getting
hungrier and hungrier. He had, in fact, never before been so ravenous.
He felt as if he hadn't eaten in years.

He had met with two strokes of luck--the accessible bottle and the
incredibly generous manager. They had left him just as hungry and
thirsty as before. Now he encountered a third gift of fortune. On the
plate glass window of a restaurant was the flamboyant announcement:
EATING CONTEST TONIGHT AT MONTE'S RESTAURANT! FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP
OF THE WORLD! ENTRIES BEING TAKEN NOW! NO CHARGE IF YOU EAT ENOUGH FOR
AT LEAST THREE PEOPLE.

Ollie's face brightened. The way he felt, he could have eaten enough
for a hundred. The fact that the contestants, as he saw upon reading
further, would be limited to hard-boiled eggs made no difference to
him. For once he would have a chance to eat everything he could get
down his yawning gullet.

That night it was clear that neither the judges nor the audience
thought much of Ollie as an eater. Hungry he undoubtedly was, but it
was obvious that his stomach had shrunk from years of disuse, and
besides, he didn't have the build of a born eater. He was long and
skinny, whereas the other contestants seemed almost as broad and wide
as they were tall. In gaining weight, as in so many other things, the
motto seemed to be that those who already had would get more. Ollie
had too little to start with.

In order to keep the contest from developing an anticlimax, they
started with Ollie, believing that he would be lucky if he ate ten eggs.

Ollie was so ravenous that he found it difficult to control himself,
and he made a bad impression by gulping the first egg as fast as he
could. A real eater would have let the egg slide down rapidly yet
gently, without making an obvious effort. This uncontrolled, amateur
speed, thought the judges, could only lead to a stomachache.

Ollie devoured the second egg, the third, the fourth, and the rest of
his allotted ten. At that point, one of the judges asked, "How do you
feel?"

"Hungry."

"Stomach hurt?"

"Only from hunger. It feels like it got nothin' in it. Somehow, them
eggs don't fill me up."

Somebody in the audience laughed. The judges exchanged glances and
ordered more eggs brought on. From the crowd of watchers, cries of
encouragement came to Ollie. At this stage, there was still nobody who
thought that he had a chance.

Ollie proceeded to go through twenty eggs, forty, sixty, a hundred. By
that time, the judges and the crowd were in a state of unprecedented
excitement.

Again a judge demanded, "How do you feel?"

"Still hungry. They don't fill me up at all."

"But those are large eggs. Do you know how much a hundred of them
weigh? Over fifteen pounds!"

"I don't care how much they weigh. I'm still hungry."

"Do you mind if we weigh you?"

"So long as you don't stop givin' me eggs, okay."

They brought out a scale and Ollie stepped on it. He weighed one
hundred and thirty-nine pounds, on the nose.

Then he started eating eggs again. At the end of his second hundred,
they weighed him once more. Ollie weighed one hundred thirty-eight and
three-quarters.

The judges stared at each other and then at Ollie. For a moment the
entire audience sat in awed silence, as if watching a miracle. Then the
mood of awe passed.

One of the judges said wisely, "He palms them and slips them to a
confederate."

"Out here on the stage?" demanded another judge. "Where's his
confederate? Besides, you can see for yourself that he eats them. You
can watch them going down his throat."

"But that's impossible. If they really went down his throat, he'd gain
weight."

"I don't know how he does it," admitted the other. "But he does."

"The man is a freak. Let's get some doctors over here."

Ollie ate another hundred and forty-three eggs, and then had to stop
because the restaurant ran out of them. The other contestants never
even had a chance to get started.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the doctor came and they told him the story, his first impulse
seemed to be to grin. He knew a practical joke when he heard one. But
they put Ollie on the scales--by this time he weighed only a hundred
thirty-eight and a quarter pounds--and fed him a two pound loaf of
bread. Then they weighed him again.

He was an even one hundred and thirty-eight.

"At this rate, he'll starve to death," said the doctor, who opened his
little black bag and proceeded to give Ollie a thorough examination.

Ollie was very unhappy about it because it interfered with his eating,
and he felt more hungry than ever. But they promised to feed him
afterward and, more or less unwillingly, he submitted.

"Bad teeth, enlarged heart, lesion on each lung, flat feet, hernia,
displaced vertebrae--you name it and he has it," said the doctor.
"Where the devil did he come from?"

Ollie was working on an order of roast beef and was too busy to reply.

Somebody said, "He's a rag-picker. I've seen him around."

"When did he start this eating spree?"

With stuffed mouth, Ollie mumbled, "Today."

"Today, eh? What happened today that makes you able to eat so much?"

"I just feel hungry."

"I can see that. Look, how about going over to the hospital so we can
really examine you?"

"No, sir," said Ollie. "You ain't pokin' no needles into me."

"No needles," agreed the doctor hastily. If there was no other way to
get blood samples, they could always drug him with morphine and he'd
never know what had happened. "We'll just look at you. And we'll feed
you all you can eat."

"All I can eat? It's a deal!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The humor was crude, but it put the point across--the photographer
assigned to the contest had snapped a picture of Ollie in the middle of
gulping two eggs. One was traveling down his gullet, causing a lump in
his throat, and the other was being stuffed into his mouth at the same
time. The caption writer had entitled the shot: THE MAN WHO BROKE
THE ICEBOX AT MONTE'S, and the column alongside was headed, Eats
Three Hundred and Forty-three Eggs. "I'm Hungry!" He Says.

Zolto put the paper down. "This is the one," he said to his wife.
"There can be no doubt that this person has found it."

"I knew it was no longer in the alley," said Pojim. Ordinarily a comely
female, she was now deep in thought, and succeeded in looking beautiful
and pensive at the same time. "How are we to get it back without
exciting unwelcome attention?"

"Frankly," said Zolto, "I don't know. But we'd better think of a way.
He must have mistaken it for a nut and swallowed it. Undoubtedly the
hospital attendants will take X-rays of him and discover it."

"They won't know what it is."

"They will operate to remove it, and then they will find out."

Pojim nodded. "What I don't understand," she said, "is why it had this
effect. When we lost it, it was locked."

"He must have opened it by accident. Some of these creatures, I have
noticed, have a habit of trying to crack nuts with their teeth. He must
have bitten on the proper switch."

"The one for inanimate matter? I think, Zolto, that you're right. The
stomach contents are collapsed and passed into our universe through
the transfer. But the stomach itself, being part of a living creature,
cannot pass through the same switch. And the poor creature continually
loses weight because of metabolism. Especially, of course, when he
eats."

"Poor creature, you call him? You're too soft-hearted, Pojim. What do
you think we'll be if we don't get the transfer back?"

He hunched up his shoulders and laughed.

Pojim said, "Control yourself, Zolto. When you laugh, you don't look
human, and you certainly don't sound it."

"What difference does it make? We're alone."

"You can never tell when we'll be overheard."

"Don't change the subject. What are we supposed to do about the
transfer?"

"We'll think of a way," said Pojim, but he could see she was worried.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the hospital, they had put Ollie into a bed. They had wanted a nurse
to bathe him, but he had objected violently to this indignity, and
finally they had sent in a male orderly to do the job. Now, bathed,
shaven and wearing a silly little nightgown that made him ashamed to
look at himself, he was lying in bed, slowly starving to death.

A dozen empty plates, the remains of assorted specialties of the
hospital, filled with vitamins and other good things, lay around him.
Everything had tasted fine while going down, but nothing seemed to have
stuck to him.

All he could do was brood about the puzzled and anxious looks on the
doctors' faces when they examined him.

The attack came without warning. One moment Ollie was lying there
unhappily, suffering hunger pangs, and the next moment somebody had
punched him in the stomach. The shock made him start and then look
down. But there was nobody near him. The doctors had left him alone
while they looked up articles in textbooks and argued with each other.

He felt another punch, and then another and another. He yelled in
fright and pain.

After five minutes, a nurse looked in and asked casually, "Did you
call?"

"My stomach!" groaned Ollie. "Somebody's hittin' me in my stomach!"

"It's a tummyache," she said with a cheerful smile. "It should teach
you not to wolf your food."

Then she caught a glimpse of his stomach, from which Ollie, in his
agony, had cast off the sheet, and she gulped. It was swollen like a
watermelon--or, rather, like a watermelon with great warts. Lumps stuck
out all over it.

She rushed out, calling, "Doctor Manson! Doctor Manson!"

When she returned with two doctors, Ollie was in such acute misery that
he didn't even notice them. One doctor said, "Well, I'll be damned!"
and began tapping the swollen stomach.

The other doctor demanded, "When did this happen?"

"Right now, I guess," replied the nurse. "Just a few minutes ago his
stomach was as flat as the way it was when you saw it."

"We'd better give him a shot of morphine to put him out of his pain,"
said the first doctor, "and then we'll X-ray him."

Ollie was in a semi-coma as they lifted him off his bed and wheeled him
into the X-ray room. He didn't hear a word of the ensuing discussion
about the photographs, although the doctors talked freely in front of
him--freely and profanely.

It was Dr. Manson who demanded, "What in God's name are those things,
anyway?"

"They look like pineapples and grapefruit," replied the bewildered
X-ray specialist.

"Square-edged pineapples? Grapefruit with one end pointed?"

"I didn't say that's what they are," returned the other defensively. "I
said that's what they look like. The grapefruit could be eggplant," he
added in confusion.

"Eggplant, my foot. How the devil did they get into his stomach,
anyway? He's been eating like a pig, but even a pig couldn't have
gotten those things down its throat."

"Wake him up and ask him."

"He doesn't know any more than we do," said the nurse. "He told me that
it felt as if somebody was hitting him in the stomach. That's all he'd
be able to tell us."

"He's got the damnedest stomach I ever heard of," marveled Dr. Manson.
"Let's open it up and take a look at it from the inside."

"We'll have to get his consent," said the specialist nervously. "I know
it would be interesting, but we can't cut into him unless he's willing."

"It would be for his own good. We'd get that unsliced fruit salad out
of him." Dr. Manson stared at the X-ray plates again. "Pineapples,
grapefruit, something that looks like a banana with a small bush on
top. Assorted large round objects. And what looks like a nut. A small
nut."

If Ollie had been aware, he might have told Dr. Manson that the nut
was the kernel of the trouble. As it was, all he could do was groan.

"He's coming to," said the nurse.

"Good," asserted Dr. Manson. "Get a release, Nurse, and the minute he's
capable of following directions, have him sign it."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the corridor outside, two white-clad interns stopped at the door of
Ollie's room and listened. They could not properly have been described
as man and woman, but at any rate one was male and the other female. If
you didn't look at them too closely, they seemed to be human, which, of
course, was what they wanted you to think.

"Just as I said," observed Zolto. "They intend to operate. And their
attention has already been drawn to the nut."

"We can stop them by violence, if necessary. But I abhor violence."

"I know, dear," Zolto said thoughtfully. "What has happened is clear
enough. He kept sending all that food through, and our people analyzed
it and discovered what it was. They must have been surprised to
discover no message from us, but after a while they arrived at the
conclusion that we needed some of our own food and they sent it to us.
It's a good thing that they didn't send more of it at one time."

"The poor man must be in agony as it is."

"Never mind the poor man. Think of our own situation."

"But don't you see, Zolto? His digestive juices can't dissolve such
unfamiliar chemical constituents, and his stomach must be greatly
irritated."

She broke off for a moment as the nurse came past them, giving them
only a casual glance. The X-ray specialist followed shortly, his face
reflecting the bewilderment he felt as a result of studying the plate
he was holding.

"That leaves only Dr. Manson with him," said Zolto. "Pojim, I have a
plan. Do you have any of those pandigestive tablets with you?"

"I always carry them. I never know when in this world I'll run into
something my stomach can't handle."

"Fine." Zolto stepped back from the doorway, cleared his throat, and
began to yell, "Calling Dr. Manson! Dr. Manson, report to surgery!"

"You've been seeing too many of their movies," said Pojim.

But Zolto's trick worked. They heard Dr. Manson mutter, "Damn!" and saw
him rush into the corridor. He passed them without even noticing that
they were there.

"We have him to ourselves," said Zolto. "Quick, the tablets."

They stepped into the room, where Zolto passed a small inhalator back
and forth under Ollie's nose. Ollie jerked away from it, and his eyes
opened.

"Take this," said Pojim, with a persuasive smile. "It will ease your
pain." And she put two tablets into Ollie's surprised mouth.

Automatically, Ollie swallowed and the tablets sped down to meet the
collection in his stomach. Pojim gave him another smile, and then she
and Zolto were out of the room.

To Ollie, things seemed to be happening in more and more bewildering
fashion. No sooner had these strange doctors left than Dr. Manson came
rushing back, cursing, in a way that would have shocked Hippocrates,
the unknown idiot who had summoned him to surgery. Then the nurse
came in, with a paper. Ollie gathered that he was being asked to sign
something.

He shook his head vigorously. "Not me. I don't sign _nothin'_, sister."

"It's a matter of life and death. Your own life and death. We have to
get those things out of your stomach."

"No, sir, you're not cuttin' me open."

Dr. Manson gritted his teeth in frustration. "You don't feel so much
pain now because of the morphine I gave you. But it's going to wear off
in a few minutes and then you'll be in agony again. You'll have to let
us operate."

"No, sir," repeated Ollie stubbornly. "You're not cuttin' me open."

And then he almost leaped from his bed. His already distended stomach
seemed to swell outward, and before the astonished eyes of doctor and
nurse, a strange new bump appeared.

"Help!" yelled Ollie.

"That's exactly what we're trying to do," said Dr. Manson angrily.
"Only you won't let us. Now sign that paper, man, and stop your
nonsense."

Ollie groaned and signed. The next moment he was being rushed into the
operating room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The morphine was wearing off rapidly, and he lay, still groaning, on
the table. From the ceiling, bright lights beat down upon him. Near his
head the anesthetist stood with his cone of sleep poised in readiness.
At one side a happy Dr. Manson was slipping rubber gloves on his
antiseptic hands, while the attentive nurses and assistants waited.

Two interns were standing near the doorway. One of them, Zolto, said
softly, "We may have to use violence after all. They must not find it."

"I should have given him a third tablet," said Pojim, the other intern,
regretfully. "Who would have suspected that the action would be so
slow?"

They fell silent. Zolto slipped a hand into his pocket and grasped the
weapon, the one he had hoped he wouldn't have to use.

Dr. Manson nodded curtly and said, "Anesthetic."

And then, as the anesthetist bent forward, it happened. Ollie's
uncovered stomach, lying there in wait for the knife, seemed to heave
and boil. Ollie shrieked and, as the assembled medicos watched in dazed
fascination, the knobs and bumps smoothed out. The whole stomach began
to shrink, like a cake falling in when some one has slammed the oven
door. The pandigestive tablets had finally acted.

Ollie sat up. He forgot that he was wearing the skimpy and shameless
nightgown, forgot, too, that he had a roomful of spectators. He pushed
away the anesthetist who tried to stop him.

"I feel fine," he said.

"Lie down," ordered Dr. Manson sternly. "We're going to operate and
find out what's wrong with you."

"You're not cuttin' into me," said Ollie. He swung his feet to
the floor and stood up. "There ain't nothin' wrong with me. I feel
wonderful. For the first time in my life I ain't hungry, and I'm
spoilin' for trouble. Don't nobody try to stop me."

He started to march across the floor, pushing his way through the
protesting doctors.

"This way," said one of the interns near the door. "We'll get your
clothes." Ollie looked at her in suspicion, but she went on, "Remember?
I'm the one who gave you the tablets to make the pain go away."

"They sure worked," said Ollie happily, and allowed himself to be led
along.

He heard the uproar behind him, but he paid no attention. Whatever
they wanted, he was getting out of here, fast. There might have been
trouble, but at a critical point the public address system swung into
operation, thanks to the foresight of his intern friends, who had
rigged up a special portable attachment to the microphone. It started
calling Dr. Manson, calling Dr. Kolanyi, calling Dr. Pumber, and all
the others.

In the confusion, Ollie escaped and found himself, for the first time
in his life, a passenger in a taxicab. With him were the two friendly
interns, no longer in white.

"Just in case any more of those lumps appear in your stomach," said
the female, "you'd better take another couple of tablets."

She was so persuasive that Ollie put up only token resistance. The
tablets went down his stomach, and then he settled back to enjoy the
cab ride. It was only later that he wondered where they were taking
him. By that time, he was too sleepy to wonder very much.

With the aid of the first two tablets, he had digested the equivalent
of a tremendous meal. The blood coursed merrily in his veins and
arteries, and he had a warm sensation of well-being.

As the taxi sped along, his eyes closed.

       *       *       *       *       *

"You transmitted the message in one of the latter tablets?" asked Zolto
in their native tongue.

"I have explained all that has happened," replied his wife. "They will
stop sending food and wait for other directives."

"Good. Now we'll have to get the transfer out of him as soon as
possible. We ourselves can operate and he will never be the wiser."

"I wonder," said Pojim. "Once we have the transfer, it will only be a
nuisance to us. We'll have to guard it carefully and be in continual
fear of losing it. Perhaps it would be more sensible to leave it inside
him."

"Inside him? Pojim, my sweet, have you taken leave of your senses?"

"Not at all. It is easier to guard a man than a tiny object. I took
a look at one of the X-ray plates, and it is clear that the transfer
switch has adhered to his stomach. It will remain there indefinitely.
Suppose we focus a transpositor on that stomach of his. Then, as
the objects we want arrive from our own universe in their collapsed
condition, we can transpose them into our laboratory, enlarge them, and
send them off to Aldebaran, where they are needed."

"But suppose that he and that stomach of his move around!"

"He will stay in one place if we treat him well. Don't you see, Zolto?
He is a creature who has always lacked food. We shall supply him such
food as his own kind have never dreamed of, complete with pandigestion
fluid. At the same time, we shall set him to doing light work in order
to keep him busy. Much of his task will involve studying and improving
himself. And at night we shall receive the things we need from our own
universe."

"And when we have enough to supply the colony on Aldebaran II?"

"Then it will be time enough to remove the transfer switch."

Zolto laughed. It was a laugh that would have been curiously out of
place in a human being, and if the taxi driver hadn't been so busy
steering his way through traffic, he would have turned around to look.
Pojim sensed the danger, and held up a warning finger.

Zolto subsided. "You have remarkable ideas, my wife. Still, I see no
reason why this should not work. Let us try it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ollie awoke to a new life. He was feeling better than he had ever
felt in his entire miserable existence. The two interns who had come
along with him had been transformed magically into a kindly lady and
gentleman, who wished to hire him to do easy work at an excellent
salary. Ollie let himself be hired.

He had his choice of things to eat now, but, strangely enough, he no
longer had his old hunger. It was as if he were being fed from some
hidden source, and he ate, one might almost have said, for the looks of
it. The little he did consume, however, seemed to go a long way.

He gained weight, his muscles hardened, his old teeth fell out and new
ones appeared. He himself was astonished at this latter phenomenon, but
after his previous experience at the hospital, he kept his astonishment
to himself. The spots on his lungs disappeared, his spine straightened.
After a time he reached a weight of a hundred and ninety pounds, and
his eyes were bright and clear. At night he slept the sleep of the
just--or the drugged.

At first he was happy. But after several months, there came a feeling
of boredom. He sought out Mr. and Mrs. Zolto, and said, "I'm sorry, I
can't stay here any longer."

"Why?" asked the lady.

"There's no room here, ma'am, for advancement," he said, almost
apologetically. "I've been studyin' and I got ideas about things I can
do. All sorts of ideas."

Pojim and Zolto, who had planted the ideas, nodded solemnly.

Pojim said, "We're glad to hear that, Ollie. The fact is that we
ourselves had decided to move to--to a warmer climate, some distance
away from here. We were wondering how you'd get along without us."

"Don't you worry about me. I'll do fine."

"Well, that's splendid. But it would be convenient to us if you could
wait till tomorrow. We'd like to give you something to remember us by."

"I'll be glad to wait, ma'am."

That night Ollie had a strange nightmare. He dreamed that he was on
the operating table again, and that the doctors and nurses were once
more closing in on him. He opened his mouth to scream, but no sound
came out. And then the two interns were there, once more wearing their
uniforms.

The female said, "It's all right. It's perfectly all right. We're just
removing the transfer switch. In the morning you won't even remember
what happened."

And, in fact, in the morning he didn't. He had only a vague feeling
that something _had_ happened.

They shook hands with him and they gave him a very fine letter of
reference, in case he tried to get another job, and Mrs. Zolto
presented him with an envelope in which there were several bills whose
size later made his eyes almost pop out of his head.

He walked down the street as if it belonged to him, or were going to.
Gone was the slouch, gone the bleariness of the eyes, gone the hangdog
look.

Gone was all memory of the dismal past.

And then Ollie had a strange feeling. At first it seemed so peculiar
that he couldn't figure out what it was. It started in his stomach,
which seemed to turn over and almost tie itself into a knot. He felt a
twinge of pain and winced almost perceptibly.

It took him several minutes to realize what it was.

For the first time in months, he was hungry.





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