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´╗┐Title: The Trouble with Truth
Author: Grow, Julian F.
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 Trouble with Truth" ***

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                        THE TROUBLE WITH TRUTH

                           BY JULIAN F. GROW

                        ILLUSTRATED BY LUTJENS

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
                   Worlds of Tomorrow December 1963
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]



           Nobody knows where it will end. I only know where
              it began--in Rutlan--twenty-four hours ago!


I

"The WPA stinks," Sara said. Now, I've known Sara four year. We've been
engaged three times and married once--only marriage, not matrimony--so
I pretty much know what to expect from her. I didn't speak.

She rummaged in her belt pouch and waved something from it under my
nose. It was a plastic tube, pointed and dark at one end. "Do you know
what this is?" She said it loud enough to make people at other tables
look away from the program on the Rutlan Community Room cubeo.

As it happened, I did know what it was. "Sure," I said. "It's a pencil."

"A pencil!" she hissed back. "A pencil such as they've been making
for, I don't know, maybe three hundred years. Plastic and a black
core, that's all. An atavistic, human writing instrument. But there is
more real, solid news in this one pencil than in all the gadgets and
wires and whirling wheels of the whole stinking WPA, your World Press
Association! And in one edition of my poor little _Argus_, that funny
little country monthly...."

Fortunately, at this point, the familiar Thomas Edison Pageant
broadcast ended and the announcer on the cubeo rang his Town Crier
bell. Copies of the Northeast Region edition of the _Sun_ began pouring
out of the Fotofax slot. As a matter of habit I rose and got a _Sun_
for each of us, Sara taking hers with a snort, and sat down again as
the announcer gave the World Press Association opening format:

"An informed people is a free people," he droned. "Read your _Sun_ and
know the truth. Stand by now for an official synopsis of the day's

We both got up to go, leaving our _Suns_ behind as most in the room
later would too. "Oh, I almost forgot," Sara said, the way she does
when she's been thinking about something all day. "That reminds me. I'm
pregnant."

"Ah?" I said. "Okay. Good." Not just marriage this time: matrimony it
was. We walked out, and she held my hand, a thing she doesn't normally
do.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the belt-way to Milbry and Sara's house, some 48 kiloms north of
Rutlan, we talked about getting wed. I lay back in the seat of my car
and through the roof watched the December snow fall--making plans with
only half a mind for moving from my Nork apartment, deciding whether
to keep both cars, arguing whether the commute to Nork took 40 or 45
minutes, choosing a sex for the baby. Mostly I was thinking about what
Sara had said about the _Sun_. I'm a Reporter, after all.

When the car locked onto the exit tramway and started deceleration, I
suggested that we go to the _Argus_ office first. Her apartment was
just upstairs anyway. "We had better," I said, "have a little talk."

The demand sensor of the radiant heater in front of the _Argus_
building was, as usual, out of order, so we didn't linger. Sara pressed
her ID bracelet against the night lock and the door swung open with a
squawk that lifted my hair.

Once when I asked her why she didn't get it fixed, she said it saved
the price of a cowbell on a spring. I told her then that Vermont had
no business in the 21st century, and she said the 21st century had no
business in Vermont, the 19th had been more fun. Fun! She said if I
didn't like Vermont I could go back to Nork, and she gave it the old
fashioned pronunciation, Newark, I suppose just to irritate me. As I
recall, I did go back to Nork, that time, but that was a long time ago.

This time, anyway, I pushed her gently down into her chair, the worn
old oak swivel chair in front of the disreputable old rolltop desk,
with that battered old electric typewriter of her father's and her
grandfather's. For all I know, her five-great-grandfather Elias
Witherill started the _Argus_ with it in 1847, two centuries ago.

"You say the WPA is bad," I said. I tapped the typewriter. "There's
your real villain. And there--" pointing at the ancient offset press
she printed the _Argus_ on and waving at the framed, yellowed copy of
Vol. 1, No. 1 of the _Argus_, hanging on the wall--and "there!"

       *       *       *       *       *

It began with the typewriter, I informed her. The printing press came
first, but typewriters really did the job.

Maybe the actual beginning was the manuscript of the ancient monks:
impersonal and uniform. But handwriting was hardly wide-spread in the
Dark Ages, so let's take it from the typewriter.

Handwriting was an individual thing. Transcribed speech; and speech is
an individual's articulated thought. Printing is based on handwriting,
but it's stylized and made uniform for mass production.

That leaves a big gap between script and print--the difference between
personal mental process and a merely mechanical process of duplication.

Look at it this way. In the days when handwriting was general, a
man believed a personal message if it came from someone he trusted.
And he'd know it came from that person because he recognized the
handwriting, just as he'd recognize the person's voice, or his face.
The writing was, in effect, an extension of the reader's own senses or
experience, into a distant situation.

Then with better communications came more handwritings, and more
distant situations. Then the typewriter, and then the dictatyper.
Everybody's writing was just like everybody else's, and there was a
lot of it.

Everything was in type, even the identifying name at the end of
a personal letter, the autograph ("Signature," Sara snigged) ...
signature, then. For a long time businessmen's letters had been
signed by their stenographers anyway. ("Secretaries, blockhead," Sara
muttered, and she sighed.)

The point is, I continued, that except for a few cases of
eccentricity--I glanced at her belt pouch, with the pencil in
it--handwriting had disappeared. The written word--the reader's distant
experience--was in type: dictatype, teletype, phototype, printer's
type ... newspapers, books, advertising, business letters, memoranda,
personal letters, everything.

Before, people had tended to believe most of what was handwritten, and
almost nothing that was in type. With everything in type, they got
tired of deciding which to believe and began to believe either every
word, or none. It wasn't good.

It led to the Edict, and of course to the World Press Association and
its relentless search for truth.

"Gah," said Sara. "Truth is an overrated commodity. Let's go upstairs
and get ourselves something to eat."


II

Her voice was muffled coming from the jon. But I knew she was reading
from a document she kept framed there, and I knew well what it said.

    The Edict

    Be it enacted by the unanimous voice of these United Nations of
    America, Europe, Africa and Free Asia, in congress this 14th day of
    April, 1997 that, henceforth:

    No person, group of persons, organization, or governing body of any
    town, city, state or nation existing under the articles of this
    federation, shall print, or cause to be printed, or knowingly
    permit to be printed, or disseminate or knowingly permit to be
    disseminated any word, phrase or work, excepting only certain
    scientific treaties of explicit speculative nature as hereinafter
    defined by statute, that is not both wholly and in part
    demonstrably true.

"Great Judah," I heard Sara say. "What a disaster!"

"Stop muttering and come out here," I shouted. "You said food."

"I'll be with you in a minute. I'm almost finished undressing." Since
we weren't expecting company I had already hung up my coverall--a
new though serviceable one of diaphragm-weave thermoplast, bought
especially for Vermont and warranted for 30 degrees below.

With or without the chiton and hose she favored over coveralls, Sara
was a handsome woman. Strong, straight and, I knew, a fit mother for
our children. But right at the moment, she was angry at me all over
again.

She strode to the foodbar. "You!" she said, chucking a handful of
steakpaks into the infra, twisting the dial. "You and your Edict!" she
said, hurling potatopaks into a pan of hot water and yelping when the
water splashed on her thigh. "You and your stupid, buzzing, clicking,
inhuman WPA!" she said, filling milkpaks with water, cramming them into
holders and slapping them sloshing down on the table.

"You talk about type and belief and truth. Truth! You have the gall to
keep on parroting those same old defenses about that electronic scrap
heap you have the effrontery to call a--a Greeley! Elias Witherill
thought Horace Greeley was a rotten newspaperman, but rotten or not, he
was still too good to have that whining junkpile named after him.

"What does a tangle of wires know about newspapering. What does WPA
know about writing a story? What do _you_ know about news?"

"Now, Sara," I said.

"Don't now-sara me, dammit. You still fail utterly to realize that news
is more than just what happened, when, where, to whom, how and why.
It's what might still happen, even what might have happened otherwise
or never did happen, if that's part of the story.

"The Edict forbids every bit of it!

"But most important, news is expressed--and this you simply cannot
see--expressed in basic human terms, designed to arouse the basic human
curiosity or sympathy that makes an abstract description palatable _to
people_. If you like, it _tricks_ people into informing themselves.
The _Sun_, your wonderful _Sun_, sticks to facts and statistics, and
make a _hurricane_ dull. It doesn't tell about people, it lists numbers!

"Real news has, by God, Heart! Without it, a newspaper is just a list,
a long, long list that ... nobody ... will ... READ!"

"Okay," I said. "Okay! This is better?" I tramped over to a framed
_Argus_ front page down the wall from Vol. 1, No. 1, that was dated
April 17, 1904. She started to protest, but I overrode her. "Listen to
this," I said. And read from a story given prominent play on the page:

    NEAR-DEATH ... AND TRAGEDY

    "WHERE'S TINKLE?"

    HER FIRST QUESTION

    Death's clammy hand brushed a golden-haired moppet Tuesday
    afternoon.

    Gentlewomen swooned in the crowd that quickly gathered at the
    corner of South Main and Elm Streets, so near had tragedy come to
    that little girl, Irma Littlefield, aged four, daughter of Mr. and
    Mrs. Adoniram Littlefield of 324 Elm Street, that afternoon. Men
    wept unashamedly when little Irma, lying crumpled in the dust,
    stirred her tiny limbs and opened eyes of deepest blue, even as her
    shrieking mother flew to the side of her baby.

    Death had passed by Irma, yes. Yet the uncaring runaway freight
    wagon that had so nearly snuffed out her brief existence had dealt
    the child a blow even as cruel, more savage; perhaps as grievous a
    hurt as would have been the sweet baby's death to her stricken
    parent, sobbing now with the child's golden head in her lap.

    For from Irma's ashen lips, cold still with the awful nearness of
    the Grim Reaper, the first faltering words were,

    "Where's Tinkle, my little doggie?"

    Tinkle, a curly-haired mongrel to the unseeing world, nothing to
    the insensible, crushing wheels of the now-distant freight wagon.
    Tinkle, more than a dog, more than a pet, more than it is given us
    in our wisdom to know, to that little child. A friend, confidante,
    companion in all her infant games and journey of the imagination.

    "Where's Tinkle?" Alas, Irma....

"That's plenty of that," I told Sara. "Is that what you mean by Heart?
Is that what you mean by 'news'?

"It wouldn't even rate two lines in your own _Argus_ today.

"But don't try to tell me that the major newspapers changed from that
mawkish, overblown sentimentality about unimportant or nonexistent
things. They just printed the same sort of drivel using governments
and countries instead of people. They cluttered themselves up with
portentous speculation and conflicting interpretation until the actual
relation of real events was crowded off the page--because plain facts
weren't exciting enough to sell newspapers!

"Granted, country people are curious about their neighbors, and have
activities too small and numerous to make the _Sun_. That's why
semi-controlled monthlies like the _Argus_ exist. But for the important
stuff, only the exact truth will do."

       *       *       *       *       *

I thought a minute before going on. Why can't a civilization that will
some day land on the moon, calm an angry woman? I started by pulling
Sara, struggling, onto my lap.

"You think--hold still!--a Reporter doesn't have to know much," I told
her. She nodded violent assent. "You think all he has to do, all day
long, is sit by the Scoop and keep Flacks and psychos away. You think I
just sit there while news goes in the Scoop and comes out the Fotofax
slot.

"To some extent, you're right. WPA doesn't encourage heavy thought on
the job--just that I be big enough and quick enough to keep some fool
from hollering fake advertising plugs or obscenities or nonsense into
the mouthpiece, or maybe smashing the Scoop the way some try to do.

"But I _think_. I take pleasure in thinking, in figuring things out.
Sure, I keep it quiet, permanent Civil Service status or not. If I
didn't keep my mouth shut I'd never have been promoted from Inaplis to
WPA Center Nork.

"Sara, I am in charge of the No. One Scoop in the Northeast Region for
the Greeley--all right, the Groves-Rudermann Eidetic Integrator. Top
spot in the Guild, Sara! Because I keep my eyes open and my mouth shut,
and I tend my Scoop."

"But all the while you're faithfully guarding that hole-in-the-wall,
you're thinking big fat thoughts," she snarled. But she had nestled
into a comfortable position in my lap.

"Faith and fat, your favorite shock words," I said. "Yes, I do think.
I think the Edict was a good thing. I think the WPA is a good and
necessary organization. And I think that Cybernetic Democracy is the
best form of government that men have figured out yet."

"Speak for yourself," Sara muttered. "I don't like being told how to
live by a pinball machine."

       *       *       *       *       *

Don't hurl antiquities at me, I told her. Cybernetic Democracy and WPA
are root and branch of the same tree. The Edict set up WPA, and WPA
worked, and Congris came as a logical development, and it works. The
voice came before the brain (Sara mumbled something about a Cheshire
Cat, whatever that is) but the point is, now we have both.

Look, it surely wasn't good the way government was before. Stands to
reason as long as men are making the laws, a lot of those laws are
bound to be stupid, or unfair, or just plain corrupt--like the men that
made them.

But electrons don't lie, and they can't be bought, and they don't make
mistakes.

So in every community room throughout the UN, there are Senators.
Microphones linked direct by microwave to Congris, the biggest
cybernetic machine in the world, buried deep in rock somewhere in the
Midwest. All you or any other citizen has to do is clear your ID with
the Page, there protecting his Senator just like I do my Scoop, and
speak your mind.

That complaint, or suggestion or whatever it is, goes straight to
Congris, and Congris tallies it. If enough people have said the same
thing, maybe that call of yours is the one that tips the balance: a new
general law may be made, an old one changed.

Why, don't you realize that if enough people asked Congris to abolish
itself and bring back representative human government, it would? That
directive was the first one programmed, even before the civil codes of
a hundred thousand big and little governments were fed in, compiled and
codified. But it'll never happen.

And if Congris sees it's got just a local matter, it passes your
call down to the district level, and the same computer that settles
everything from tax bills to traffic violations to murder may publish
an ordinance--and that's that.

It's incorruptible, not like man-made law. It's impartial, it's just
and impersonal. It's the greatest good for the greatest number, and as
sure as 51 beats 49, there never was democracy purer than we've got now.

Sara! Wake up!

       *       *       *       *       *

She sat up yawning, and stretched. "I, and my father before me, have
been writing editorials against Congris for forty-two years. Since
2005," Sara informed me drowsily. "Why don't you tell me all about it?"

Then she sat up, eyes wide with interest. "You are blushing with anger
clear down to your navel," she exclaimed. "I never knew you did that!"

"And you are flat clear down to yours," I snapped. The words I
regretted immediately. They were atavistic, impulsive, and even untrue;
a violation of ethics and my Reporter's code.

"I am not," she said with composure. "But I won't be petty again, so go
on, I guess."

"Well," I mumbled, "all I was going to say is that if it works for
government it works for news too."

She sat up very straight in my lap and sing-songed like a schoolgirl:
"Where the objective of Cybernetic Democracy is justice impartially
rendered, the objective of cybernetic journalism and of the World Press
Association is truth impartially told. 'For you will be told the truth,
and the truth will keep you secure.' Foof."

"Well, it's--it's true, dammit," I said. "You aren't, you of all
people aren't, going to tell me that news isn't just as important as
government!

"Without that Fotofax printer in every home and public cubeo set, how
are people going to know what's going on, and what laws have been
passed? And how well those laws are obeyed? Why, without the _Sun_ we
wouldn't have an informed public. We wouldn't have democracy at all!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"You," she said crisply, "are confusing news with the _Sun_. News is a
description of events, presented with human intelligence in a manner to
interest and stimulate other human intelligence. The _Sun_ is whatever
that monstrous washing-machine decides is proper to have happened,
presented in a manner to interest no one except other washing-machines."

"Very glib," I replied. "But at least you will admit that news
is important. Then doesn't it seem sensible to give it the same
protection that government has? Protection from error and stupidity and
corruption?"

"Protection?" she wailed. "It's so protected nobody sees it--nobody
sees it--nobody cares!

"That hairy old item you read off the wall. You're right, I wouldn't
use it today any more than the _Sun_ would. But suppose Little Irma
there had been killed by the runaway. We'd both print it.... I'd
tell the story, a story that might make just one more parent careful
that day and save one more child. The _Sun_ would put it in a list,
something like:

    DEATHS, Accidental
    MILBRY--Littlefield
    Irma: 4 dau/ M&M
    Adoniram L-, 324 Elm,
    struck by wagon Elm at S. Main.

"... and that would be that for a little blonde-haired, blue-eyed,
four-year-old statistic! Why, suppose...."

"Supposition!" I interrupted. "You can't waste time with supposition!
People are entitled to facts. They get facts in the _Sun_. They know
that every item in that sheet is written, checked and checked again
by the special media circuits of Congris we call WPA. Those same
cybernetic banks that make the laws, trace the lawbreakers, do the
thousands of things that make our civilization possible, they filter,
sift and sort the news as it comes in from the Scoops.

"A Fireman reports on a fire, a Policeman reports on a crime, a Doctor
a death or a citizen any important event. Every bit goes to the Greeley
and if it's important enough, comes out in the next regional, national
or world _Sun_. All the Fireman or citizen or whatever has to do, is
press his ID tag to the sensor, for identity, veracity and authority
audit, and have a Second there for corroboration.

"It's the news, straight news, all the news that's important enough to
print, and written so it can be understood...."

"By a washing-machine," Sara broke in. "Sterilized, deodorized,
dehumanized news--and still it stinks."

"Dehumanized! Certainly it's dehumanized! There's none," I said
emphatically, "of that so-called 'human element' about it! Why, the
whole point is to eliminate human error, human prejudice, human
partiality, human ignorance!"

Sara sat up suddenly, driving her rump right into the pit of my
stomach. "Oh," she said, "I almost completely forgot. What do you want
for Christmas?"

Torn between pain and exasperation, I believe I kept myself in check
admirably. From clenched teeth I informed her I was intelligent enough
not to exchange unwanted gifts of equal value, moral enough to abhor
Crimmus. All I could ever want, I said, was not to be bludgeoned in the
belly with a butt.

I asked her to please get up, and she did, cheerfully.


III

Driving down to Nork the next morning, I dropped off the feeder tramway
onto the fast belt south. Hanging from the feeder hook, waiting for an
open space in the line of cars, it occurred to me a lot of people were
on the road, both Nork-bound and northbound to Montral.

"Crimmus shopping," I said aloud, remembering, and swore mildly at the
slip. While the day--tomorrow, it was--still meant something to some,
it's not the kind of rational deformity you generally talk about.

Sara would, of course.

But I long ago faced the fact that Sara's a romantic. As neuroses go,
that's a mild one, and didn't even call automatically for correction.
All that it meant was that she was restricted to the C Population Zones
that she wouldn't leave anyway, and a little outside special tutoring
in the Realities for our children.

It wouldn't even affect my job or Civil Service rating. Still, if
Vermont were ever zoned Population B, there might be trouble. She
wouldn't leave Milbry.

Oho, I thought to myself, locking onto the Nork belt and
double-checking the destination coordinates, I am lapsing into
speculation--risky ground, for a Reporter. The code expressly forbids
speculation, and with reason.

Speculation uses an inadequate number of arbitrarily chosen half-truths
to shape conflicting possibilities, all but one of which time must
prove to be false. Truth is only what has already happened. Conjecture
is a laboratory matter for trained scientists to dabble in, under
laboratory controls. Judging from the scarcity of scientific news these
days, conjecture wasn't working there either.

Having neatly boxed myself into an uninformed generality, I grimaced,
took a dozer and slept all the way to Nork.

Back in my stag cubicle at the dorm, I fingered my chin in what
must have been pure atavism; it wasn't even close to time for a
depilatory booster. Sara--Sara, Sara, Sara--once urged me to skip the
pill some month and grow a beard, a mustache or something, like her
Four-Great-Grandfather Isaac, Elias Witherill's son. The one that was a
war major, in 1861.

I told her it was an aberration for her to have our sort of
relationship with a grandfather image, and besides a beard did mean
body hair in general and that itched. She said, well, I could instead
get a false beard, like Santa Claus, and then we had a really big
argument about what sorts of vulgarity were amusing, and which were not.

That broke off our second engagement, I think it was. Yes, the second.
Now she was pregnant, on purpose, we were going to get wed, and I had
just seven minutes to get to work.

       *       *       *       *       *

My Scoop is in the usual sound-proofed, glass-walled isol-booth you'll
see anywhere in Nork. The fact that it is in a plaza at the 75th level
and thus under the open sky, a thing that bothers a lot of Nork people,
is to me more than mitigated by the view from the vestibule. You can
see, beyond the Liberty Statue International Memorial floating in New
York Bay over the former site of Times Square, to the Long Island shore
at Mineola and up into Conicut.

Today there wasn't time to look around. I formally relieved Vern, the
late-nightside Reporter, and had barely punched my ID against the time
clock when the District Reporter's face came on the viewer for visual
check.

"Reporter One-C Ben Marli. US-6044-230 988 368GN 0800/24 Deck 2047," I
said. The face nodded, faded.

Vern was still there when the viewer went blank. Most of us punch in
exactly on time and punch out exactly four hours later, to the minute.
Vern always comes on early and leaves late because, I think, his father
was convicted of advertising under the Edict, and Vern is still trying
to clear the family number.

"Quiet night, Ben. Just one accident," he said. I was leafing through
the little pile of dupes--simultypes of the stories that had gone into
the Scoop, with the ibems of the Source and his or her Second--and was
seeing this for myself, so I just grunted.

Then one, the accident he'd spoken of, brought me up sharp.

On the face it was a straight item: the Source, Retailer Mark Neman,
US2109-590-412 663CC, a visitor to Nork, had told of an accident
involving one Housewife Ela Brand in a store on the 24th level,
unnamed, of course. She fell on an antique glass bowl, which broke and
cut her neck severely. The store's security guard substantiated the
story, adding that the woman had nearly bled to death from a severed
carotid artery before arrival of the store doctor. He had been delayed
by the nearly unheard-of circumstance of the birth of twins in the
store's infirmary.

First aid by an unidentified passerby saved the accident victim's life,
according to both Source and Second.

The doctor was unable to perform as Second because, while the victim
was physically able to go on her way after normal treatment, she had
had to be clinicked for "irrational grief reaction" over loss of the
bowl she had fallen on. Even so, the novel injury, rare these days,
would have made it a play story in _Sun_ editions across the nation, at
a quiet time like the end of the year.

"Vern, Vern," I said. "Don't you know a Plant when you hear one? Surely
you should recognize a Flack's work, if anybody could," I told him.
Maybe it was unkind to talk about Flacks, when his father had been one;
but any time the truth hurts, it's the pain of healing.

"It's a pretty elaborate plant, but phony as faith," I said more
gently. "That bowl fairly screams 'Gift.' Are you forgetting tomorrow's
Crimmus, and that all over the country Flacks are pulling tricks like
this?"

Vern, pale, said defensively, "Ben, look. The Source's ID checked
without a hitch. He's a retailer in Dals, Tex. The guard's cleared
too. The doctor verified by phone, from the clinic. You going to tell
me that a doctor would lie or be mistaken about an accident like that,
or that it could be faked in a crowded store, or that any woman'd risk
bleeding to death for Flack money?

"I know the Flacks are out in droves. But this has got to be a
legitimate story."

"It's a phony," I said. "The gift is just too integral. Don't be slow
to punch the button on a deal like this."


IV

It _was_ a phony of course. Despite Vern's failure to signal for a
double-check, the WPA had delayed publication and run the circuits.
Similar but not identical stories had gone into Scoops in 14 major
cities, all at the same time today; each involved a near death or
disaster, with a reference to a recognizable gift that couldn't be
edited out. In each case the Source was a retailer visiting that
city--and yet the stores and 14 retailers matched up perfectly.

In our particular "accident," the woman turned out to be a clandestine
actress--they had all virtually disappeared after the Edict, needless
to say--hired for her ability to fall and fake injury convincingly.
She hadn't cut herself on the glass, only burst a hidden capsule of
her own blood drawn off weeks before. The actual gash in her throat
was made with a shard of glass by the "unidentified passerby"--really
the Flack himself--when he saw the store doctor coming. The
artificially-stimulated birth of twins that had delayed the doctor, had
also been part of the Plant.

The doctor was found innocent. The guard, only true victim of the plot,
was cited as unobservant but not held for correction. The Flack, the
actress, the mother of the twins and the visiting retailer were, before
my shift was half over, sentenced for conspiracy to deceive and falsely
advertise in violation of the Edict, as were the culprits in the 13
other Plants. Their conviction was the play story, all editions in the
10:00 hours _Sun_.

All that, to remind people about gifts, and Crimmus. The WPA had
exposed the plot, and printed the truth about it as no human
news-reporting agency could have.

Even so, I wondered, if, despite the Edict and WPA, the Flacks hadn't
gotten their Crimmus reminder before the public, after all. I stared in
at the Scoop.

Physically, the Scoop is just a short, thick tube projecting from a
blank wall; it ends in a round orifice covered by a grille, and is
adjustable to the height of the speaker. Below it is an ID sensor
plate, and above it, the viewer and the preamble to the Edict.

The Scoop isn't large. But it gives man a voice no man ever had before:
it could bring his words almost instantly to men throughout the world.
It is the ultimate in the communication that mankind has sought down
from the dawning of intelligence. Only one condition must be met, and
only one thing those words must, according to the Edict, be:

"... Wholly and in part demonstrably true."

       *       *       *       *       *

Think about it a minute. In the earliest days, communication was
between two men only. If the first lied, only two people, the liar and
the victim, were affected. Later, as civilization developed through
improved communication--more abstract lingual concepts, systems of
writing, methods of transportation--a word could travel faster and
farther, and affect more and more people. The numbers hearing a man's
speech and being touched by his words grew at the same time larger
and closer to him, as his methods of addressing them went farther and
farther out.

Great truths were produced by closer collaboration, as communications
improved. But with imperfect regulation, great lies went out too,
magnified by the same communications. One man's lies could poison an
entire nation, and afflict the entire world.

It had to stop and, after the Third War, the Edict stopped it.

Just as cybernetic democracy brought true justice to government,
the incorruptible and infallible machines brought just truth to
communication, through control of mass media.

Of course it meant the end of written and portrayed fiction; for who
could tell when a fiction, faultily understood would be believed, and a
lie derived?

Of course it meant the end of competitive advertising and, to a large
extent, competing products. One depilatory is not truly, demonstrably
better than another. No car is superior to another in appreciable
degree. And no institution requiring false images of such superiority
can contribute to a civilization facing reality. If a product can't be
sold on the basis of true fact, it has no place in the market.

Of course it meant other necessary changes in the economy; for without
predictions of mythical profits or hypothetical success, banned by the
Edict, who would invest? What human could surely forecast profits or
success? Congris now decides such matters, and the result has been a
stable economy.

Of course it meant alteration of personal relationships. All too
often the so-called "love" of one another was founded on deliberate
deception, or self-delusion fostered by fiction. "Love" letters,
and with them the extravagant posturings of romance, ceased almost
to exist, through postal censorship under the Edict. All but known
truth was eliminated from schoolbooks, to the detriment only of the
romanticized, and thus probably false, past. Surrounded by fact, human
relationships have become factual. Hypocrisy, deceit, exaggeration are
against the law.

Granted, the per capita ratio of marriages, and weddings once a desired
child is to be born, have decreased. But so have the divorces, both
overt and covert, that once resulted from disillusion.

In the same way, parents and children assess their true feelings toward
each other and, sometimes, rearrange themselves--or on application are
rearranged. It makes for a far more practical allotment, often, than
the hit-or-miss distribution of children previously.

Life, freed from the phantoms and fairies inspired by spurious
children's tales, by adult daydreams, deception and delusion, is less
complex, more direct than it was 50 years ago. It permits a far greater
attention to the details of present existence; for once you realize how
little good it does to dwell on an unknowable future, the immediate and
provable present becomes important indeed.

If sometimes this present seems to lack a luster that older people say
they remember, at least no flaws have been concealed by that luster. At
last mankind can see exactly what he is, and where he stands.

Myth, prediction, speculation, promise, aspiration, hope: these fog
the mind with illusion and paralyze the hand with doubt. The present
suffices for itself.


V

All the wrong things were in the face of the man I saw approaching
now, through the tube from the elevator. You know how you can spot
the dreamers? I could see it on this one 50 yards away, and I swore,
because it was almost time for my shift to end.

He came on, hurrying with that expression in his eyes, a little girl
trotting after him. They were father and daughter. Both had the look,
though he seemed a little old to have a young child.

He passed the outer gate well enough, fumbling his ID against the
lockplate and fidgeting during the seconds it took for preliminary
verification to come. The lock clicked and he burst in, pulling the
girl after him.

"We wish to report ..." he began. I waved at him to shut up. "Name,
number and duty," I said. "That's the routine." Of course the
information had typed out from the banks before he got in.

"Oh. I'm sorry." I think he really was. "My name is Karl Onlon,
professor of elementary biology, downstairs." That meant he tended
a teaching machine at the center mid-town branch of the university.
"Number ... my number is--" and he peered at his ID "--ah, US1006-929
113 274CE."

The point of asking for name, number and duty is to let the Source cool
down a bit. He had, a little, so I said, "Okay, what's your story?"

"We wish to report signs of the presence of a herd of small ruminant
animals in Central Park Memorial Plaza," he said. He waved toward the
patch of white-mottled brown about a kilometer away, where dirt and
rocks and a whole lake had been raised to rooftop level for an open-air
park. Naturally, that was done when pointless things were still being
done.

"What you tell me doesn't matter as far as appearing in the _Sun_
is concerned," I told him. "But I have to know details before I can
pass you in to the Scoop. The World Press Association decides on the
stories." He nodded. "You are the Source?"

"Ah ... actually, no," Onlon said. "I'm the Second. My daughter Gini--"
he'd been standing with his arm around the little girl, and squeezed
her shoulder "--is the, uh, Source. But she is a very sensible person,
and I will vouch for--Second--anything she tells you."

Truly, I was already getting a little uncomfortable with this pair. The
girl hadn't said anything, but she stood looking grave and important,
and something else too, up at her father. Open pride, it looked like.
Yet sometimes she almost smiled. He was earnest enough, except when he
looked down at her.

I was weighing all this while I listened with half an ear to the story.
This wasn't a Flack, or a Flack's trick. That I was certain of. You can
tell. Deviates don't come in father-daughter pairs, so it wasn't an
obscenity kick. And this wasn't a Scoop-smash.

I didn't think it was a news story, either. But Onlon seemed quite
convinced that this pack of animals that left the tracks was rare, not
only in Nork but anywhere. The tracks were distinctive, he said. And
the girl, whose voice matched her face, grave yet with a kind of ...
happiness in it, did seem sensible. So I passed them in, to the Scoop.

Odd, I thought of Sara as I did it.

"I don't think this will make the paper," I warned them. "Children
don't make good Sources. And your being her father weakens the Second.
This herd, or whatever it was, could have been a dog or rat pack ...
there still are some in Central Park. But the Greeley'll decide. Go on
in."

As the glass door swung shut behind them, he held it and said, "They're
early, you see." And I swear the little girl giggled.

I watched her reach up to the sensor plate with her ID.

       *       *       *       *       *

They weren't in the Scoop cubicle long, for Ron Obrin, my relief,
reached the top of the elevator just as the girl started to talk into
the Scoop, and he was opening the vestibule door when the pair came
out. Ron was, of course, on the dot of noon.

The father was talking to the girl as Ron checked in at the time clock.
"There, Gini, I promised you, and we tried," I heard him say. She
thanked me, still grave and almost smiling, and he thanked me, and they
left. I was glad to see them go.

"Quiet morning, Ron," I said. That reminded me of Vern, and Vern's
blunder, and suddenly that made me edgy. I went in to the Scoop and
tore off the dupe of the Onlon report.

The first warning I had was the slug, "CHURCH," stamped at the end of
their transmission on signal from the Greeley. It meant the Greeley had
evaluated the transmission and referred it to the editorial level.

And that was wrong, way wrong.

Every trade has its vulgar and, some would say, irreverent catchwords.
Actual churches had become pretty rare as Congris took over more and
more direction of public life. You can depend on advice you get from a
cybernetic system that doesn't stop eating if you stop asking. So as
religion dwindled, in the WPA we came to call the Greeley's editorials
"sermons," and the ratiocinating levels of the Greeley, "Church." It's
rather juvenile, I suppose.

Still the Onlon transmission was slugged "CHURCH." I looked at the
father's Second report, and saw why.

"THE STORY I TOLD TO GAIN ENTRANCE HERE WAS A JOKE," he had said.
"THERE WERE NO TRACKS OF TINY REINDEER IN CENTRAL PARK MEMORIAL
PLAZA ... AT LEAST NONE WHOSE TRACKS I SAW....

"PLEASE ... WHOMEVER THIS MAY CONCERN ... DO NOT BLAME THE REPORTER WHO
LET US IN ... HE IS TRAINED ONLY TO RECOGNIZE COLD TRUTH AND COLD
LIES ... AND HAS NO EXPERIENCE WITH JOKES ... WHICH ARE NEITHER ... I
FULLY UNDERSTAND THAT ... IN OUR SOCIETY ... A JOKE IS A LIE AND A
CRIME ... I THINK THAT IS A TRUE CRIME ... THANK YOU....

"AND IME SORRY...."

Bad, bad, bad for me. Beyond a possible editorial about these "jokes,"
the Church would ignore the matter. But the fact I had passed a lie
would show on my performance audit, and it wouldn't look good; even so,
the treatment I got from Civil Service would be a lot gentler than the
things I was thinking about myself. I doubted that Onlon would even
get more than a reprimand--he apparently meant no harm. He would be
separated from the child, of course.

As for the girl's transmission, it was shocking and stupid. I jammed
the dupe in my belt-pouch, and went out without a word to Ron, to start
the trip to Sara and Vermont.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was poor company when I got there. Sara tried every trick she knew
to find out what the trouble was, for naturally I told her there was
trouble. But I couldn't yet make myself tell her how I'd been duped, by
a professor and a child.

Finally she dragged me off to the Milbry Community Room to, as she
said, "dissolve my unwept tears in humanity's soothing sea." Knowing
full well it was Crimmuseve didn't help me a bit.

As I feared, the gaiety of Crimmus was rank in the room: a lot of
excited talk, snatches of humming. And even, when the Fotofax bell
sounded, somebody said, "Ring out, wild bells," and a few people
laughed out loud. Though most looked around guiltily.

I got up automatically to get our copies of the _Sun_ as the cubeo
announcer went into the WPA opening format:

"An informed people is a free people. Read your _Sun_ and know the
truth. Stand by now for an official synopsis of the day's happenings
prepared by the World Press Association." That was the standard
formula. But then he departed from standard, and it rattled him. I sat
next to Sara and watched, interested.

"I have been directed," he said, "to call your full attention to the
editorial on the front page of your _Sun_." Good grief, I thought:
Church! Surely not the Onlon thing! The announcer looked around him
rather wildly, then blurted: "I now turn you over to the Orator, for a
direct-voice proclamation of this editorial."

The vocal unit of Church, highest level of the WPA and the actual voice
of Congris! The last time it spoke, 2 years ago, it was the Pan-asian
War--this couldn't be the Onlon thing. The announcer's image faded from
the cubeo prism and was replaced by a soft light, and an organ note
as the local station engineers patched to the nationwide WPA circuit.
Everyone in the room stared into the light, even Sara, waiting for the
voice.

When it came, deep and resonant, I could feel it in my own chest. I
could feel too the tension go out of Sara, and feel the sigh she and
everyone else sighed, at the end of waiting.

The voice said:

"I speak to you about the question asked by a little girl. I answer
her, but my answer is for all children, and women and men, and for all
time...."

I almost shouted aloud, in sheer disbelief. It wasn't war, it wasn't
even Onlon's joke--it was that silly thing from Onlon's daughter!

       *       *       *       *       *

I grabbed the dupe up out of my belt-pouch, and read along with that
deep, throbbing voice:

"I am eight years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa
Claus. Papa says, if you see it in the _Sun_, it's so. Please tell me
the truth: is there a Santa Claus?"

And the voice read off the name the way the girl, with her grave little
voice, would have formally given it: Virginia O'Hanlon. But what could
the Church in all dignity say, to nonsense like that?

"Virginia," said the voice, "your little friends are wrong. They have
been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe
except they see...."

I was stunned. The broadcast is a hoax, I thought; a Flack's trick,
or an incredible act of sabotage on an entire social system. Barely
conscious of Sara sitting raptly beside me, I tried to make sense out
of that deep organ note sounding through the roaring in my ears.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," it was saying. "He exists as
certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist.... How dreary
would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! There would be no
child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this
existence. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world
would be extinguished...."

I turned to Sara, tried to speak. She turned to me, eyes shining, and
raised her fingertips to my mouth, then went back to the light, and the
voice. Over the buzz I heard:

"... there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest
man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever
lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can
push aside the curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and
glory beyond.

"Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else
real and abiding.

"No Santa Claus? Thank God, he lives! and lives forever! A thousand
years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now,
he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

The echoes of the voice seemed to ring even after the light had faded
and left a roomful of people staring at the place where it had been;
then looking up, with widening eyes, into the faces of others.

"I'll be damned," Sara whispered. "I will be damned! or just maybe ...
maybe not, after all...."

As I said, I don't know where it will end. Nobody does.


END





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