Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"Too Many Boards" by Harl Vincent, part 2

This is the second installment of "Too Many Boards", a story by pioneering science fiction writer Harl Vincent. The story first appeared in the April 1931 issue of Amazing Stories magazine, and has since passed into the public domain. This is the first time "Too Many Boards" has seen the light of day since its original magazine publication 78 years ago. The first installment can be found here.

In part 1, Larry Conover, the President of United Synthetic Food, laments to his friend Art Hovey the fact that the Board of Eugenics is forcing him to marry his friend Alta Farrish. It's the year 2030, and by law all members of classification A2 must marry by age 32. Conover is an A2, and two months short of the deadline. Then he meets his new secretary, Una Sinclair . . .

* * *

"I've found her at last."

Ten days had passed, and Larry was again entertaining Art Hovey in his apartment.

"That's no news. Una Sinclair, isn't it?"

"Of course."

"How about her B. of E. rating?"

"A2. I wanted to do a handspring when she told me."

"Easy now, Larry. You're getting all excited. And, quit your eternal tramping. Don't you know that old man Mills is getting set for your marriage to Alta?"

"Sure, but I'm going to call it off. Right now, too, over the opto. Alta'll be tickled silly. She doesn't want me any more than I want her."

"All the same, you can't do it, Larry. Mills'll break you. United Synthetic will hit bottom in this crazy market, if he starts unloading. Then where'll you be?"

"Hang it! I'm in love, I tell you. What do I care for the money? I can earn a substantial living. Maybe have to live in level forty, but what's the difference?"

"Have you asked Una?"

"Not yet. But there've been things -- more than mere hints. I'm pretty sure she'll have me."

"With your money gone?"

"Another crack like that, Art Hovey, and I'll crown you. Una isn't that sort."

"Sorry, Larry. I know it. But you're in for trouble, do you know that?"

"Trouble? If there's any I'll start it right away."

Larry turned to his optophone.

"Hello Laurence," came the hearty voice of John X. Mills, when his ruddy features materialized on the disc, "what brings you to the opto on a rest day?"

"It's about Alta, John. The wedding's off."

Larry spoke crisply and the bristling eyebrows of John X. Mills raised in surprise, the red of his round cheeks deepening perceptibly.

"What do you mean, off? Everything is arranged."

"I know it and I'm sorry, John. But I have other plans. My decision will come as a relief to Alta -- you know that."

"Come, come, my boy. Don't be hasty. That new secretary of yours has turned your head."

"Perhaps. But this is final." The conversation was growing distasteful to Larry, and Mills' appearance of imminent apoplexy made him want to laugh.

"Final? Final? I'm not sure of that, Laurence. At any rate, you'll not marry that red-head in your office." The disc went dark, for Mills had disconnected.

"Red-head! Red-head!" yelled Larry to the unresponsive instrument. "You old fossil!"

Then he stared foolishly at Art, who remained calm and wholly undignified where he lay stretched among the cushions.

"Told you so," his friend remarked soothingly.

* * *

The die was cast, and Larry hastened to be sure of Una. He rushed from the apartment, leaving Art to shift for himself. Panicky doubts assailed him when he entered the uptown pneumatic tube and took his place in the bulletlike car that would whisk him to the upper reaches of
Westchester Borough. He had been rather hasty and abrupt with Mills. Should have talked with Una first.

The girl, he thought, greeted him with some indication of constraint, but he imagined this to be due to the fact that this was his first visit to her modest eighteenth-level apartment. She flushed as prettily as ever when she pressed his fingers, and he plunged headlong into the subject of his chaotic thoughts.

"Una," he blurted forth, "I love you, and I want you for my wife. In these past few days you have become to me the essence of all that is worth while -- the . . . "

She dropped weakly into a chair as he spoke, and a look of fear widened her eyes. "But Mr. Conover -- Larry --" she protested.

"I know, dear -- it is short notice. But this thing is real with me. I can think of nothing else. And somehow I've come to believe you reciprocate. Am I wrong? Do you?"

"No -- no -- it isn't that!"

"What then? There's no one else?"

"No one. And -- I do care -- but --"

Suddenly the girl was in his arms -- weeping uncontrollably. She clung to him in terror, it seemed. He had not been wrong. But the depth of her feeling frightened him. He sensed calamity.

"Larry," she finally whispered, "I do care for you. More than you will ever know. But we can not wed."

"Can not wed? But why? Why?" He held her at arm's length and his heart sank at what he saw written on her blanched features.

"My eugenic rating -- it -- it --"

"But it's A2. I saw your card."

"It was A2, Larry." She was quieting now and spoke with hopeless finality, "But now it is F2. Day before yesterday I took my annual test and I just received notice this morning."

"There isn't any 'F' grade. Only the five letters and their sub-numbers. You must be mistaken."

"It's the new classification. Something to do with pigmentation, they tell me. Guess it's my freckles." And she smiled bravely through her tears.

Larry raved. These rotten restrictions again! But he had never anticipated this, and had entirely forgotten the added classification. To think that Una, of all girls, should be reclassed! He thought darkly of Mills and his threats. But this was no doing of his. The Eugenics department was incorruptible. Besides, it had been done two days ago. But how Mills would gloat over him! Suddenly he stopped in his tracks -- he had been walking the floor again, he realized shamefacedly -- and wrinkled his brow in thought.

Una regarded him kindly and sympathetically from where she sat. She was as crushed as he, but, being a woman, was more resigned. Her heart ached more for Larry than for herself, and she longed to pillow his head on her knees and mother him. He was such a big, overgrown boy!

"Say!" Larry's forceful exclamation startled her. He was at her side in a single bound and squatted beside her chair. "Are you game to elope with me?"

"Elope? We can't. It is impossible to be legally married on either Earth, Venus, or Mars. Where else is there to go?"


"Larry! It has a terrible climate and is -- oh -- uncivilized. Besides, its government is unrecognized by the Tri-planetary Alliance. We'd be exiles in an awful land where we could never live in peace."

"Honey -- listen! It's just the opposite. I've a very good friend, Chick Davis, who's captain of the Rocket III, one of the Tri-planetary liners. He tells me Mercury is one of the finest of the inhabited bodies. It's terrifically hot on the side always toward the sun and frigid on the other, but there's a narrow belt where the climate is moderate -- semi-tropical by earthly standards. And it's not uncivilized, but highly cultured. They've a real democratic government there and aren't members of the Alliance only because it's their own desire to remain aloof. Our rigid laws and the resulting standardization of types, habits, and activities of our people are distasteful to them. But Chick's been there and he says it's ideal -- the very place for such as we. We could be free and untrammeled -- happy."

"But the liners are not permitted to stop there."

"Good reason. The Alliance fears their population would be educated to a spirit of revolt if they saw too much or knew too much of the conditions on Mercury. So they permit no voyagers to land there. But I'll bet I can get Chick to smuggle us in somehow. He's a great schemer."

"It seems so -- I don't know -- barbaric somehow. Are you certain of all these things your friend has told you?"

"Absolutely. Chick hasn't a reason in the world to misrepresent it to me. And there aren't barbarians there, sweetheart. They are a kindly people, and wise -- too wise to mix with the others of the outer planets. I'm sure we would be welcome. And I'll work; I'll break my back to make you happy there. What do you say?"

"You almost convince me." Una's eyes were starry. They now visioned a ray of hope.

Larry drew her fiercely close. "You've got to, honey," he begged, "it's our only chance. Six weeks you know and I've got to marry -- someone in A2 -- someone I don't love. Else it's the penal colony of Mars for the rest of my life -- laboring on the canals. I swear I'd rather --"

Una placed the tips of her warm fingers over his lips. "Don't say it, dear," she whispered. "It isn't necessary. I"ll go. I'm not afraid. And, oh Larry -- I -- I need you."

Wordless happiness crept in to replace the erstwhile gloom of the tiny apartment.

(continue to part 3)

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