Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 1

It's time for another public domain story by forgotten science fiction pioneer Harl Vincent. Today's story comes from the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. At this point, three years into his writing career, Vincent is an established pro, with twenty-four stories in print. He has even sold a story to Argosy, the Cadillac of pulp magazines. Not bad for a mechanical engineer who writes as a hobby. And now, for the first time since its original magazine publication 78 years ago, the Johnny Pez blog is proud to present the first installment of . . .

Too Many Boards
by Harl Vincent

"Why not take your medicine and have it over with, Larry?"

The words were gently spoken by Arthur Hovey, who sprawled lazily on a divan in his friend's luxuriously appointed apartment.

Laurence Conover cut short his restless pacing and crushed a half-smoked cigarette in the already heaping tray. For a moment he glared at the speaker. Then he smiled grimly and shrugged his shoulders.

"Guess I'll have to," he admitted. "Odds against me are too great. But it burns me up. I've only two months, too."

"Yeah. Two months." His friend gazed dreamily at nothing in particular.

Art Hovey was that way. Larry's companion since boyhood, he had ever been easygoing -- a dreamer too. Larry, though two years his senior, was more impetuous, the leader in all their youthful adventures and leader still, having attained the presidency of the corporation for which Art worked as a department manager.

"It isn't that I dislike Alta Farrish," continued Larry, "she's a good friend. But, hang it, I don't want to marry her. Guess I'm old-fashioned, but I'd like to go back about a hundred years to the days of Lindbergh and Gene Tunney and Owen D. Young. They did things in those days. And they didn't have their every conscious act controlled by legislation."

"They had prohibition."

"You would bring that up. That's what started the whole business, too. The gloom-dispensers got away with that and they've gotten away with murder ever since. But our Board of Eugenics beats anything they ever cooked up. I rebel against having a bride forced upon me. Think of it! I'm two months short of thirty-two and have to marry before my birthday. Have to! And not outside of class A2."

"What's the matter with A2? There's only one higher class, and it with only eighteen members."

"Nothing the matter with it. But I haven't found romance in my own rating. I want to choose my own mate; court her as they used to; take her away from someone if necessary. What do I care about their intelligence tests, their blood counts, and other ratings? Maybe our ancesters didn't raise a regulated number of kids; kids who wore thick glasses at five years of age and quoted Ovid as ours do today. But they loved and hated normally; played and fought, and got a kick out of life. How're you going to do it today?"

"Can't. But it's a pretty good old world at that. Better than Mars or Venus."

"Sure it is. But that's not the point. It's this infernal regulation of everything. The Martians and Venusians were used to it. So was most of our old world population. But in America we've had our heritage of freedom and independence taken from us. And to some of us it comes pretty hard."

"But we don't do anything, Larry."

"No. A lot of sheep!"

"You couldn't do anything anyway. Alta's guardian, you know."

"I know. John X. Mills votes fifty-one percent of our stock. And he's set on the match. Otherwise there's a lot of other A2's I might look over in two months."

"Still thinking of romance?"

Larry laughed. "Good old Art," he said. "Romance means nothing in your life, does it?"

"Not a thing."

Arthur Hovey gazed reflectively at the swarms of dancing aircraft high above the crystal expanse of New York's roof. These visits to Larry's apartment were his greatest joy. Here he could lie in the light of the sun. He could revel in its warmth as it came through the fused quartz covering of the homes of the wealthy and influential in the topmost level of the world's greatest city, one hundred and ten stories above ground. It was great! Cares and dissatisfactions seemed of no consequence.

* * *

Next morning Larry sat at his desk and stared disapprovingly at the pile of work that lay before him. He glanced at the calendar. Fifty-nine days left! He rang for his secretary.

"Miss Henderson has resigned, Mr. Conover." The voice of his chief clerk spoke from the optophone, simultaneously with the appearance of that individual's alert features in its disc.

"Resigned? Wasn't she satisfied?"

"Yes indeed. Board of Vocational Supervision de-rated her and she was ashamed to remain with us. She's taken a lesser position elsewhere, Sir."

"What? Can't we determine the fitness of our own employees?"

"Yes sir. That is, I mean, no sir. The Board is sending a substitute at once."

"Oh damn the Board!"

The startled face of the chief clerk vanished from the disc.

For a long time Larry scowled at the silent instrument before him. Boards, Boards, Boards! There was a Board for almost everything, it seemed. Well, there was nothing he could do. Might as well submit to the inevitable. He was only a cog in the huge machine that moved at the command of the terrestrial government. A fairly easily-worked cog it was true, but immutably fixed in position and function. What was the use?

The optophone spoke. "Miss Sinclair to see you."

"Miss Sinclair?"

"Yes sir, from the Board. Applying for Miss Henderson's place."

"Oh yes. Send her in."

Larry was utterly unprepared for the vision of loveliness that met his eyes a moment later. His heart skipped a beat, and he sprang from his chair with unconcealed eagerness. Then he caught himself short in embarrassed realization of the situation.

"Miss Sinclair?" he faltered.

"Yes, Mr. Conover. Una Sinclair, VR1869."

"Never mind the numbers. You're an experienced secretary?"

"Five years with the Board of Tri-planetarian Communication."

"Another Board, so help me!"

"I beg your pardon?"

Larry chuckled. "Don't mind me, Miss Sinclair," he apologized. "Think you'd like to work for United Synthetic Food?"

"I'm sure I would."

"Very well. Tell Mr. Sprague I've put you on. He'll arrange your salary with you. Then return to me for instructions, please."

When Una Sinclair tripped from the room, Larry took up the nervous pacing that was becoming a habit with him. Not such a bad Board at that, this Vocational one!

(continue to part 2)

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