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by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov introduced earlier collections of Hugo winners with his jovial authority. This story carries forward effortlessly, gliding on his unique gift for quick narration and darting ideas. Isaac was a genius at the apparently simple. Anyone who thinks that writing about complex ideas, including both modern science and the human heart, with clarity and simplicity, is welcome to try; if so, take Asimov as your model. Like Arthur Clarke, his method is deceptively transparent; indeed, readers typically remark of them both, as I heard a fan put it, "They have no style, they just write."

Ah, the depths of admirable innocence behind that phrase. For it is best if a reader does not see the furniture moving around behind a thin curtain, while reading a story. The events of the imagined world should be real, manufactured by the reader himself in that theatre of the mind which words excite. Reading is an intellectually demanding amusement, for it calls upon us to take symbols and make of them pictures, sights, sounds, to conjure up people and emotions with our mental machinery. How much more difficult to do this if the devices of the author peek into the mental field of vision, destroying the fleeting sense of real events unfolding. So it is with style, I think, for most readers. They do not want to see style so much as feel it. They desire to be propelled through events and sensations and ideas which unfurl effortlessly, as though ordained, and they do not wish to feel any intrusion. The author's voice does this task best when it is transparent, seemingly "natural," inevitable.

Isaac had that gift. Of course, what style appears invisible yet effective depends upon the taste of the reader. For a huge readership, Isaac's worked that wonder. He is the only author represented with a book in each classification of the Dewey Decimal System in the Library of Congress. Not only did he write compulsively, he did it well. I have known only two writers who truly enjoyed the sheer process of writing— from the deep concentration through the mechanical details of hammering out thoughts on a keyboard, through (in Isaac's case) the tedium of making up cards for each important word in a book, to create its Index. (The other is Dean Koontz, whose work methods are quite different, but inner demons seem similar at least in their incessant energies.)

Alas, we shall have no more of Isaac's limpid prose. I was so struck by his death that when his widow, Janet, proposed to me in 1995 that I write a novel set in his Foundation, I at first declined. My first thought was, how could I echo that style? Isaac wrote much of his fiction in a way he termed "direct and spare," though in the later works he relaxed this constraint a bit. For the Foundation novels he used a particularly bare-boards approach, with virtually no background descriptions or novelistic details. I found that I had to explore Asimovian ideas my own way, so the resulting book, Foundation's Fear, is not an imitation Asimov novel, but a Benford novel using Asimov's basic ideas and backdrop.

I recall my last conversation with him, only months before he died. His prodigious memory had failed and he could again read favorite mysteries, not knowing how they would turn out. An oblique blessing indeed. He told me how his memory once had organized each scrap of new information, filing it properly under instinctive headings for instant recovery. "It saved time looking things up," he said. I once tested this filing system by demanding that he immediately tell me a joke with a camel in it. Without blinking, he did. Okay, I said, now another. He delivered just as quickly. I wondered how many more camel jokes he had and he shot back, "Three."

His books were filled with such almost offhand intelligence and knowledge. Readers flocked to them. Such is the continuing impact of probably the most influential sf novelist since Wells. For a memorable lingering moment with him, "Gold" give us Isaac still at his peak.



Jonas Willard looked from side to side and tapped his baton on the stand before him.

He said, "Understood now? This is just a practice scene, designed to find out if we know what we're doing. We've gone through this enough times so that I expect a professional performance now. Get ready. All of you get ready."

He looked again from side to side. There was a person at each of the voice-recorders, and there were three others working the image projection. A seventh was for the music and an eighth for the all-important background. Others waited to one side for their turn.

Willard said, "All right now. Remember this old man has spent his entire adult life as a tyrant. He is accustomed to having everyone jump at his slightest word, to having everyone tremble at his frown. That is all gone now but he doesn't know it. He faces his daughter whom he thinks of only as a bent-headed obsequious girl who will do anything he says, and he cannot believe that it is an imperious queen that he now faces. So let's have the King."

Lear appeared. Tall, white hair and beard, somewhat disheveled, eyes sharp and piercing.

Willard said, "Not bent. Not bent. He's eighty years old but he doesn't think of himself as old. Not now. Straight. Every inch a king." The image was adjusted. "That's right. And the voice has to be strong. No quavering. Not now. Right?"

"Right, chief," said the Lear voice-recorder, nodding.

"All right. The Queen."

And there she was, almost as tall as Lear, standing straight and rigid as a statue, her draped clothing in fine array, nothing out of place. Her beauty was as cold and unforgiving as ice.

"And the Fool."

A little fellow, thin and fragile, like a frightened teenager but with a face too old for a teenager and with a sharp look in eyes that seemed so large that they threatened to devour his face.

"Good," said Willard. "Be ready for Albany. He comes in pretty soon. Begin the scene." He tapped the podium again, took a quick glance at the marked-up play before him and said, "Lear!" and his baton pointed to the Lear voice-recorder, moving gently to mark the speech cadence that he wanted created.

Lear says, "How now, daughter? What makes that frontlet on? Methinks you are too much o' late i' th' frown."

The Fool's thin voice, fifelike, piping, interrupts, "Thou wast a pretty fellow when thou hadst no need to care for her frowning—"

Goneril, the Queen, turns slowly to face the Clown as he speaks, her eyes turning momentarily into balls of lurid light—doing it so momentarily that those watching caught the impression rather than viewed the fact. The Fool completes his speech in gathering fright and backs his way behind Lear in a blind search for protection against the searing glance.

Goneril proceeds to tell Lear the facts of life and there is the faint crackling of thin ice as she speaks, while the music plays in soft discords, barely heard.

Nor are Goneril's demands so out of line, for she wants an orderly court and there couldn't be one as long as Lear still thought of himself as tyrant. But Lear is in no mood to recognize reason. He breaks into a passion and begins railing.

Albany enters. He is Goneril's consort—round-faced, innocent, eyes looking about in wonder. What is happening? He is completely drowned out by his dominating wife and by his raging father-in-law. It is at this point that Lear breaks into one of the great piercing denunciations in all of literature. He is overreacting. Goneril has not as yet done anything to deserve this, but Lear knows no restraint. He says:

"Hear, Nature, hear dear goddess, hear!
Suspend thy purpose, if thou didst intend
To make this creature fruitful.
Into her womb convey sterility;
Dry up in her the organs of increase;
And from her derogate body never spring
A babe to honour her! If she must teem,
Create her child of spleen, that it may live
And be a thwart disnatur'd torment to her.
Let it stamp wrinkles in her brow of youth,
With cadent tears fret channels in her cheeks,
Turn all her mother's pains and benefits
To laughter and contempt, that she may feel
How sharper than a serpent's tooth, it is
To have a thankless child!"


The voice-recorder strengthened Lear's voice for this speech, gave it a distant hiss, his body became taller and somehow less substantial as though it had been converted into a vengeful Fury.

As for Goneril, she remained untouched throughout, never flinching, never receding, but her beautiful face, without any change that could be described, seemed to accumulate evil so that by the end of Lear's curse, she had the appearance of an archangel still, but an archangel ruined. All possible pity had been wiped out of the countenance, leaving behind only a devil's dangerous magnificence.

The Fool remained behind Lear throughout, shuddering. Albany was the very epitome of confusion, asking useless questions, seeming to want to step between the two antagonists and clearly afraid to do so.

Willard tapped his baton and said, "All right. It's been recorded and I want you all to watch the scene." He lifted his baton high and the synthesizer at the rear of the set began what could only be called the instant replay.

It was watched in silence, and Willard said, "It was good, but I think you'll grant it was not good enough. I'm going to ask you all to listen to me, so that I can explain what we're trying to do. Computerized theater is not new, as you all know. Voices and images have been built up to beyond what human beings can do. You don't have to break your speechifying in order to breathe; the range and quality of the voices are almost limitless; and the images can change to suit the words and action. Still, the technique has only been used, so far, for childish purposes. What we intend now is to make the first serious compu-drama the world has ever seen, and nothing will do—for me, at any rate—but to start at the top. I want to do the greatest play written by the greatest playwright in history: King Lear by William Shakespeare.

"I want not a word changed. I want not a word left out. I don't want to modernize the play. I don't want to remove the archaisms, because the play, as written, has its glorious music and any change will diminish it. But in that case, how do we have it reach the general public? I don't mean the students, I don't mean the intellectuals, I mean everybody. I mean people who've never watched Shakespeare before and whose idea of a good play is a slapstick musical. This play is archaic in spots, and people don't talk in iambic pentameter. They are not even accustomed to hearing it on the stage.

"So we're going to have to translate the archaic and the unusual. The voices, more than human, will, just by their timbre and changes, interpret the words. The images will shift to reinforce the words.

"Now Goneril's change in appearance as Lear's curse proceeded was good. The viewer will gauge the devastating effect it has on her even though her iron will won't let it show in words. The viewer will therefore feel the devastating effect upon himself, too, even if some of the words Lear uses are strange to him.

"In that connection, we must remember to make the Fool look older with every one of his appearances. He's a weak, sickly fellow to begin with, broken-hearted over the loss of Cordelia, frightened to death of Goneril and Regan, destroyed by the storm from which Lear, his only protector, can't protect him—and I mean by that the storm of Lear's daughter's as well as of the raging weather. When he slips out of the play in Act III, Scene VI, it must be made plain that he is about to die. Shakespeare doesn't say so, so the Fool's face must say so.

"However, we've got to do something about Lear. The voice-recorder was on the right track by having a hissing sound in the voice-track. Lear is spewing venom; he is a man who, having lost power, has no recourse but vile and extreme words. He is a cobra who cannot strike. But I don't want the hiss noticeable until the right time. What I am more interested in is the background."

The woman in charge of background was Meg Cathcart. She had been creating backgrounds for as long as the compu-drama technique had existed.

"What do you want in background?" Cathcart asked, coolly.

"The snake motif," said Willard. "Give me some of that and there can be less hiss in Lear's voice. Of course, I don't want you to show a snake. The too obvious doesn't work. I want a snake there that people can't see but that they can feel without quite noting why they feel. I want them to know a snake is there without really knowing it is there, so that it will chill them to the bone, as Lear's speech should. So when we do it over, Meg, give us a snake that is not a snake."

"And how do I do that, Jonas?" said Cathcart, making free with his first name. She knew her worth and how essential she was.

He said, "I don't know. If I did I'd be a backgrounder instead of a lousy director. I only know what I want. You've got to supply it. You've got to supply sinuosity, the impression of scales. Until we get to one point. Notice when Lear says, 'How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child.' That is power. The whole speech leads up to that and it is one of the most famous quotes in Shakespeare. And it is sibilant. There is the 'sh,' the three s's in 'serpent's' and in 'thankless,' and the two unvoiced 'th's in 'tooth' and 'thankless.' That can be hissed. If you keep down the hiss as much as possible in the rest of the speech, you can hiss here, and you should zero in to his face and make it venomous. And for background, the serpent—which, after all, is now referred to in the words—can make its appearance in background. A flash of an open mouth and fangs, fangs— We must have the momentary appearance of fangs as Lear says, 'a serpent's tooth.' "

Willard felt very tired suddenly. "All right. We'll try again tomorrow. I want each one of you to go over the entire scene and try to work out the strategy you intend to use. Only please remember that you are not the only ones involved. What you do must match the others, so I'll encourage you to talk to each other about this—and, most of all, to listen to me because I have no instrument to handle and I alone can see the play as a whole. And if I seem as tyrannical as Lear at his worst in spots, well, that's my job."


Willard was approaching the great storm scene, the most difficult portion of this most difficult play, and he felt wrung out. Lear has been cast out by his daughters into a raging storm of wind and rain, with only his Fool for company, and he has gone almost mad at this mistreatment. To him, even the storm is not as bad as his daughters.

Willard pointed his baton and Lear appeared. A point in another direction and the Fool was there clinging, disregarded, to Lear's left leg. Another point and the background, came in, with its impression of a storm, of a howling wind, of driving rain, of the crackle of thunder and the flash of lightning.

The storm took over, a phenomenon of nature, but even as it did so, the image of Lear extended and became what seemed mountain-tall. The storm of his emotions matched the storm of the elements, and his voice gave back to the wind every last howl. His body lost substance and wavered with the wind as though he himself were a storm cloud, contending on an equal basis with the atmospheric fury. Lear, having failed with his daughters, defied the storm to do its worst. He called out in a voice that was far more than human:

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulph'rous and thought-executing fires.
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o' th' world.
Crack Nature's moulds, all germains spill at once.
That make ingrateful man."


The Fool interrupts, his voice shrilling, and making Lear's defiance the more heroic by contrast. He begs Lear to make his way back to the castle and make peace with his daughters, but Lear doesn't even hear him. He roars on:

"Rumble thy bellyful! Spit, fire! spout, rain!
Nor rain, wind, thunder, fire are my daughters.
I tax not you, you elements, with unkindness.
I never gave you kingdom, call'd you children,
You owe me no subscription. Then let fall
Your horrible pleasure. Here I stand your slave,
A poor, infirm, weak, and despis'd old man . . ."

The Duke of Kent, Lear's loyal servant (though the King in a fit of rage has banished him) finds Lear and tries to lead him to some shelter. After an interlude in the castle of the Duke of Gloucester, the scene returns to Lear in the storm, and he is brought, or rather dragged, to a hovel.

And then, finally, Lear learns to think of others. He insists that the Fool enter first and then he lingers outside to think (undoubtedly for the first time in his life) of the plight of those who are not kings and courtiers.

His image shrank and the wildness of his face smoothed out. His head was lifted to the rain, and his words seemed detached and to be coming not quite from him, as though he were listening to someone else read the speech. It was, after all, not the old Lear speaking, but a new and better Lear, refined and sharpened by suffering. With an anxious Kent watching, and striving to lead him into the hovel, and with Meg Cathcart managing to work up an impression of beggars merely by producing the fluttering of rags, Lear says:

"Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pithess storm.
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them
And show the heavens more just."

"Not bad," said Wilbur, eventually. "We're getting the idea. Only, Meg, rags aren't enough. Can you manage an impression of hollow eyes? Not blind ones. The eyes are there, but sunken in."

"I think I can do that," said Cathcart.


It was difficult for Willard to believe. The money spent was greater than expected. The time it had taken was considerably greater than had been expected. And the general weariness was far greater than had been expected. Still, the project was coming to an end.

He had the reconciliation scene to get through—so simple that it would require the most delicate touches. There would be no background, no souped-up voices, no images, for at this point Shakespeare became simple. Nothing beyond simplicity was needed.

Lear was an old man, just an old man. Cordelia, having found him, was a loving daughter, with none of the majesty of Goneril, none of the cruelty of Regan, just softly endearing.

Lear, his madness burned out of him, is slowly beginning to understand the situation. He scarcely recognizes Cordelia at first and thinks he is dead and she is a heavenly spirit. Nor does he recognize the faithful Kent.

When Cordelia tries to bring him back the rest of the way to sanity, he says:

"Pray, do not mock me.
I am a very foolish fond old man.
Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less.
And, to deal plainly,
I fear I am not in my perfect mind.
Methinks I should know you, and know this man;
Yet I am doubtful; for I am mainly ignorant
What place this is; and all the skills I have
Remembers not these garments; nor I know not
Where I did lodge last night. Do not laugh at me;
For (as I am a man) I think this lady
To be my child Cordelia."

Cordelia tells him she is and he says:

"Be your tears wet? Yes, faith. I pray weep not.
If you have poison for me, I will drink it.
I know you do not love me; for your sisters
Have, as I do remember, done me wrong.
You have some cause, they have not."

All poor Cordelia can say is "No cause, no cause."

And eventually, Willard was able to draw a deep breath and say, "We've done all we can do. The rest is in the hands of the public."


It was a year later that Willard, now the most famous man in the entertainment world, met Gregory Laborian. It had come about almost accidentally and largely because of the activities of a mutual friend. Willard was not grateful.

He greeted Laborian with what politeness he could manage and cast a cold eye on the time-strip on the wall.

He said, "I don't want to seem unpleasant or inhospitable, Mr.—uh—but I'm really a very busy man, and don't have much time."

"I'm sure of it, but that's why I want to see you. Surely, you want to do another compu-drama."

"Surely I intend to, but," and Willard smiled dryly, "King Lear is a hard act to follow and I don't intend to turn out something that will seem like trash in comparison."

"But what if you never find anything that can match King Lear?"

"I'm sure I never will, but I'll find something."

"I have something."


"I have a story, a novel, that could be made into a compu-drama."

"Oh, well. I can't really deal with items that come in over the transom."

"I'm not offering you something from a slush pile. The novel has been published and it has been rather highly thought of."

"I'm sorry. I don't want to be insulting. But I didn't recognize your name when you introduced yourself."

"Laborian. Gregory Laborian."

"But I still don't recognize it. I've never read anything by you. I've never heard of you."

Laborian sighed. "I wish you were the only one, but you're not. Still, I could give you a copy of my novel to read."

Willard shook his head. "That's kind of you, Mr. Laborian, but I don't want to mislead you. I have no time to read it. And even if I had the time—I just want you to understand—I don't have the inclination."

"I could make it worth your while, Mr. Willard."

"In what way?"

"I could pay you. I wouldn't consider it a bribe, merely an offer of money that you would well deserve if you worked with my novel."

"I don't think you understand, Mr. Laborian, how much money it takes to make a first-class compu-drama. I take it you're not a multimillionaire."

"No, I'm not, but I can pay you a hundred thousand globo-dollars."

"If that's a bribe, at least it's a totally ineffective one. For a hundred thousand globo-dollars, I couldn't do a single scene."

Laborian sighed again. His large brown eyes looked soulful. "I understand, Mr. Willard, but if you'll just give me a few more minutes—" (for Willard's eyes were wandering to the time-strip again.)

"Well, five more minutes. That's all I can manage really."

"It's all I need. I'm not offering the money for making the compu-drama. You know, and I know, Mr. Willard, that you can go to any of a dozen people in the country and say you are doing a compu-drama and you'll get all the money you need. After King Lear, no one will refuse you anything, or even ask you what you plan to do. I'm offering you one hundred thousand globo-dollars for your own use."

"Then it is a bribe, and that won't work with me. Good-bye, Mr. Laborian."

"Wait. I'm not offering you an electronic switch. I don't suggest that I place my financial card into a slot and that you do so, too, and that a hundred thousand globo-dollars be transferred from my account to yours. I'm talking gold, Mr. Willard."

Willard had risen from his chair, ready to open the door and usher Laborian out, but now he hesitated. "What do you mean, gold?"

"I mean that I can lay my hands on a hundred thousand globo-dollars of gold, about fifteen pounds' worth, I think. I may not be a multimillionaire, but I'm quite well off and I wouldn't be stealing it. It would be my own money and I am entitled to draw it in gold. There is nothing illegal about it. What I am offering you is a hundred thousand globo-dollars in five-hundred globo-dollar pieces—two hundred of them. Gold, Mr. Willard."

Gold! Willard was hesitating. Money, when it was a matter of electronic exchange, meant nothing. There was no feeling of either wealth or of poverty above a certain level. The world was a matter of plastic cards (each keyed to a nucleic acid pattern) and of slots, and all the world transferred, transferred, transferred.

Gold was different. It had a feel. Each piece had a weight. Piled together it had a gleaming beauty. It was wealth one could appreciate and experience. Willard had never even seen a gold coin, let alone felt or hefted one. Two hundred of them!

He didn't need the money. He was not so sure he didn't need the gold.

He said, with a kind of shamefaced weakness. "What kind of a novel is it that you are talking about?"

"Science fiction."

Willard made a face. "I've never read science fiction."

"Then it's time you expanded your horizons, Mr. Willard. Read mine. If you imagine a gold coin between every two pages of the book, you will have your two hundred."

And Willard, rather despising his own weakness, said, "What's the name of your book?"

"Three in One."

"And you have a copy?"

"I brought one with me."

And Willard held out his hand and took it.


That Willard was a busy man was by no means a lie. It took him better than a week to find the time to read the book, even with two hundred pieces of gold glittering, and luring him on.

Then he sat a while and pondered. Then he phoned Laborian.

The next morning, Laborian was in Willard's office again.

Willard said, bluntly, "Mr. Laborian, I have read your book."

Laborian nodded and could not hide the anxiety in his eyes. "I hope you like it, Mr. Willard."

Willard lifted his hand and rocked it right and left. "So-so. I told you I have not read science fiction, and I don't know how good or bad it is of its kind—"

"Does it matter, if you liked it?"

"I'm not sure if I liked it. I'm not used to this sort of thing. We are dealing in this novel with three sexes."


"Which you call a Rational, an Emotional, and a Parental."


"But you don't describe them?"

Laborian looked embarrassed. "I didn't describe them, Mr. Willard, because I couldn't. They're alien creatures, really alien. I didn't want to pretend they were alien by simply giving them blue skins or a pair of antennae or a third eye. I wanted them indescribable, so I didn't describe them, you see."

"What you're saying is that your imagination failed."

"N—no. I wouldn't say that. It's more like not having that kind of imagination. I don't describe anyone. If I were to write a story about you and me, I probably wouldn't bother describing either one of us."

Willard stared at Laborian without trying to disguise his contempt. He thought of himself. Middle-sized, soft about the middle, needed to reduce a bit, the beginnings of a double chin, and a mole on his right wrist. Light brown hair, dark blue eyes, bulbous nose. What was so hard to describe? Anyone could do it. If you had an imaginary character, think of someone real—and describe.

There was Laborian, dark in complexion, crisp curly black hair, looked as though he needed a shave, probably looked that way all the time, prominent Adam's apple, small scar on the right cheek, dark brown eyes rather large, and his only good feature.

Willard said, "I don't understand you. What kind of writer are you if you have trouble describing things? What do you write?"

Laborian said, gently, somewhat as though this was not the first time he had had to defend himself along those lines, "You've read Three in One. I've written other novels and they're all in the same style. Mostly conversation. I don't see things when I write; I hear, and for most part, what my characters talk about are ideas—competing ideas. I'm strong on that and my readers like it."

"Yes, but where does that leave me? I can't devise a compu-drama based on conversation alone. I have to create sight and sound and subliminal messages, and you leave me nothing to work on."

"Are you thinking of doing Three in One, then?"

"Not if you give me nothing to work on. Think, Mr. Laborian, think! This Parental. He's the dumb one."

"Not dumb," said Laborian, frowning. "Single-minded. He only has room in his mind for children, real and potential."

"Blockish! If you didn't use that actual word for the Parental in the novel, and I don't remember offhand whether you did or not, it's certainly the impression I got. Cubical. Is that what he is?"

"Well, simple. Straight lines. Straight planes. Not cubical. Longer than he is wide."

"How does he move? Does he have legs?"

"I don't know. I honestly never gave it any thought."

"Hmp. And the Rational. He's the smart one and he's smooth and quick. What is he? Egg-shaped?"

"I'd accept that. I've never given that any thought, either, but I'd accept that."

"And no legs?"

"I haven't described any."

"And how about the middle one. Your 'she' character—the other two being 'he's.' "

"The Emotional."

"That's right. The Emotional. You did better on her."

"Of course. I did most of my thinking about her. She was trying to save the alien intelligences—us—of an alien world, Earth. The reader's sympathy must be with her, even though she fails."

"I gather she was more like a cloud, didn't have any firm shape at all, could attenuate and tighten."

"Yes, yes. That's exactly right."

"Does she flow along the ground or drift through the air?"

Laborian thought, then shook his head. "I don't know. I would say you would have to suit yourself when it came to that."

"I see. And what about the sex?"

Laborian said, with sudden enthusiasm, "That's a crucial point. I never have any sex in my novels beyond that which is absolutely necessary and then I manage to refrain from describing it—"

"You don't like sex?"

"I like sex fine, thank you. I just don't like it in my novels. Everyone else puts it in and, frankly, I think that readers find its absence in my novels refreshing; at least, my readers do. And I must explain to you that my books do very well. I wouldn't have a hundred thousand dollars to spend if they didn't."

"All right. I'm not trying to put you down."

"However, there are always people who say I don't include sex because I don't know how, so—out of vainglory, I suppose—I wrote this novel just to show that I could do it. The entire novel deals with sex. Of course, it's alien sex, not at all like ours."

"That's right. That's why I have to ask you about the mechanics of it. How does it work?"

Laborian looked uncertain for a moment. "They melt."

"I know that that's the word you use. Do you mean they come together? Superimpose?"

"I suppose so."

Willard sighed. "How can you write a book without knowing anything about so fundamental a part of it?"

"I don't have to describe it in detail. The reader gets the impression. With subliminal suggestion so much a part of the compu-drama, how can you ask the question?"

Willard's lips pressed together. Laborian had him there. "Very well. They superimpose. What do they look like after they have superimposed?"

Laborian shook his head. "I avoided that."

"You realize, of course, that I can't."

Laborian nodded. "Yes."

Willard heaved another sigh and said, "Look, Mr. Laborian, assuming that I agree to do such a compu-drama—and I have not yet made up my mind on the matter—I would have to do it entirely my way. I would tolerate no interference from you. You have ducked so many of your own responsibilities in writing the book that I can't allow you to decide suddenly that you want to participate in my creative endeavors."

"That's quite understood, Mr. Willard. I only ask that you keep my story and as much of my dialogue as you can. All of the visual, sonic, and subliminal aspects I am willing to leave entirely in your hands."

"You understand that this is not a matter of a verbal agreement which someone in our industry, about a century and a half ago, described as not worth the paper it was written on. There will have to be a written contract made firm by my lawyers that will exclude you from participation."

"My lawyers will be glad to look over it, but I assure you I am not going to quibble."

"And," said Willard severely, "I will want an advance on the money you offered me. I can't afford to have you change your mind on me and I am not in the mood for a long lawsuit."

At this, Laborian frowned. He said, "Mr. Willard, those who know me never question my financial honesty. You don't know me, so I'll permit the remark, but please don't repeat it. How much of an advance do you wish?"

"Half," said Willard, briefly.

Laborian said, "I will do better than that. Once you have obtained the necessary commitments from those who will be willing to put up the money for the compu-drama and once the contract between us is drawn up, then I will give you every cent of the hundred thousand dollars even before you begin the first scene of the book."

Willard's eyes opened wide and he could not prevent himself from saying, "Why?"

"Because I want to urge you on. What's more, if the compu-drama turns out to be too hard to do, if it won't work, or if you turn out something that will not do—my hard luck—you can keep the hundred thousand. It's a risk I'm ready to take."

"Why? What's the catch?"

"No catch. I'm gambling on immortality. I'm a popular writer but I have never heard anyone call me a great one. My books are very likely to die with me. Do Three in One as a compu-drama and do it well and that at least might live on, and make my name ring down through the ages," he smiled ruefully, "or at least some ages. However—"

"Ah," said Willard. "Now we come to it."

"Well, yes. I have a dream that I'm willing to risk a great deal for, but I'm not a complete fool. I will give you the hundred thousand I promised before you start and if the thing doesn't work out you can keep it, but the payment will be electronic. If, however, you turn out a product that satisfies me, then you will return the electronic gift and I will give you the hundred thousand globo-dollars in gold pieces. You have nothing to lose except that to an artist like yourself, gold must be more dramatic and worthwhile than blips in a finance-card." And Laborian smiled gently.

Willard said, "Understand, Mr. Laborian! I would be taking a risk, too. I risk losing a great deal of time and effort that I might have devoted to a more likely project. I risk producing a docu-drama that will be a failure and that will tarnish the reputation I have built up with Lear. In my business, you're only as good as your most recent product. I will consult various people—"

"On a confidential basis, please."

"Of course! And I will do a bit of deep consideration. I am willing to go along with your proposition for now, but you mustn't think of it as a definite commitment. Not yet. We will talk further."


Jonas Willard and Meg Cathcart sat together over lunch in Meg's apartment. They were at their coffee when Willard said, with apparent reluctance as one who broaches a subject he would rather not, "Have you read the book?"

"Yes, I have."

"And what did you think?"

"I don't know," said Cathcart peering at him from under the dark, reddish hair she wore clustered over her forehead. "At least not enough to judge."

"You're not a science fiction buff either, then?"

"Well, I've read science fiction, mostly sword and sorcery, but nothing like Three in One. I've heard of Laborian, though. He does what they call 'hard science fiction.' "

"It's hard enough. I don't see how I can do it. That book, whatever its virtues, just isn't me."

Cathcart fixed him with a sharp glance. "How do you know it isn't you?"

"Listen, it's important to know what you can't do."

"And you were born knowing you can't do science fiction?"

"I have an instinct in these things."

"So you say. Why don't you think what you might do with those three undescribed characters, and what you would want subliminally, before you let your instinct tell you what you can and can't do. For instance, how would you do the Parental, who is referred to constantly as 'he' even though it's the Parental who bears the children? That struck me as jackassy, if you must know."

"No, no," said Willard, at once. "I accept the 'he.' Laborian might have invented a third pronoun, but it would have made no sense and the reader would have gagged on it. Instead, he reserved the pronoun, 'she,' for the Emotional. She's the central character, differing from the other two enormously. The use of 'she' for her and only for her focuses the reader's attention on her, and it's on her that the reader's attention must focus. What's more, it's on her that the viewer's attention must focus in the compu-drama."

"Then you have been thinking of it." She grinned, impishly. "I wouldn't have known if I hadn't needled you."

Willard stirred uneasily. "Actually, Laborian said something of the sort, so I can't lay claim to complete creativity here. But let's get back to the Parental. I want to talk about these things to you because everything is going to depend on subliminal suggestion, if I do try to do this thing. The Parental is a block, a rectangle."

"A right parallelepiped, I think they would call it in solid geometry."

"Come on. I don't care what they call it in solid geometry. The point is we can't just have a block. We have to give it personality. The Parental is a 'he' who bears children, so we have to get across an epicene quality. The voice has to be neither clearly masculine nor feminine. I'm not sure that I have in mind exactly the timbre and sound I will need, but that will be for the voice-recorder and myself to work out by trial and error, I think. Of course, the voice isn't the only thing."

"What else?"

"The feet. The Parental moves about, but there is no description of any limbs. He has to have the equivalent of arms; there are things he does. He obtains an energy source that he feeds the Emotional, so we'll have to evolve arms that are alien but that are arms. And we need legs. And a number of sturdy, stumpy legs that move rapidly."

"Like a caterpillar? Or a centipede?"

Willard winced. "Those aren't pleasant comparisons, are they?"

"Well, it would be my job to subliminate, if I may use the expression, a centipede, so to speak, without showing one. Just the notion of a series of legs, a double fading row of parentheses, just on and off as a kind of visual leitmotiv for the Parental, whenever he appears."

"I see what you mean. We'll have to try it out and see what we can get away with. The Rational is ovoid. Laborian admitted it might be egg-shaped. We can imagine him progressing by rolling but I find that completely inappropriate. The Rational is mind-proud, dignified. We can't make him do anything laughable, and rolling would be laughable."

"We could have him with a flat bottom slightly curved, and he could slide along it, like a penguin belly-whopping."

"Or like a snail on a layer of grease. No. That would be just as bad. I had thought of having three legs extrude. In other words, when he is at rest, he would be smoothly ovoid and proud of it, but when he is moving three stubby legs emerge and he can walk on them."

"Why three?"

"It carries on the three motif; three sexes, you know. It could be a kind of hopping run. The foreleg digs in and holds firm and the two hind legs come along on each side."

"Like a three-legged kangaroo?"

"Yes! Can you subliminate a kangaroo?"

"I can try."

"The Emotional, of course, is the hardest of the three. What can you do with something that may be nothing but a coherent cloud of gas?"

Cathcart considered. "What about giving the impression of draperies containing nothing. They would be moving about wraith-like, just as you presented Lear in the storm scene. She would be wind, she would be air, she would be the filmy, foggy draperies that would represent that."

Willard felt himself drawn to the suggestion. "Hey, that's not bad, Meg. For the subliminal effect, could you do Helen of Troy?"

"Helen of Troy?"

"Yes! To the Rational and Parental, the Emotional is the most beautiful thing ever invented. They're crazy about her. There's this strong, almost unbearable sexual attraction—their kind of sex—and we've got to make the audience aware of it in their terms. If you can somehow get across a statuesque Greek woman, with bound hair and draperies—the draperies would exactly fit what we're imagining for the Emotional—and make it look like the paintings and sculptures everyone is familiar with, that would be the Emotional's leitmotiv."

"You don't ask simple things. The slightest intrusion of a human figure will destroy the mood."

"You don't intrude a human figure. Just the suggestion of one. It's important. A human figure, in actual fact, may destroy the mood, but we'll have to suggest human figures throughout. The audience has to think of these odd things as human beings. No mistake."

"I'll think about it," said Cathcart, dubiously.

"Which brings us to another thing. The melting. The triple-sex of these things. I gather they superimpose. I gather from the book that the Emotional is the key to that. The Parental and Rational can't melt without her. She's the essential part of the process. But, of course, that fool, Laborian, doesn't describe it in detail. Well, we can't have the Rational and Parental running toward the Emotional and jumping on her. That would kill the drama at once no matter what else we might do."

"I agree."

"What we must do, then, and this is off the top of my head, is to have the Emotional expand, the draperies move out and enswathe (if that's the word) both Parental and Rational. They are obscured by the draperies and we don't see exactly how it's done but they get closer and closer until they superimpose."

"We'll have to emphasize the drapery," said Cathcart. "We'll have to make it as graceful as possible in order to get across the beauty of it, and not just the eroticism. We'll have to have music."

"Not the Romeo and Juliet overture, please. A slow waltz, perhaps, because the melting takes a long time. And not a familiar one. I don't want the audience humming along with it. In fact, it would be best if it comes in occasional bits so that the audience gets the impression of a waltz, rather than actually hearing it."

"We can't see how to do it, until we try it and see what works."

"Everything I say now is a first-order suggestion that may have to be yanked about this way and that under the pressure of actual events. And what about the orgasm? We'll have to indicate that somehow."



"Better than sound, Jonas. You can't have an explosion. I wouldn't want some kind of eruption, either. Color. Silent color. That might do it."

"What color? I don't want a blinding flash, either."

"No. You might try a delicate pink, very slowly darkening, and then toward the end suddenly becoming a deep, deep red."

"I'm not sure. We'll have to try it out. It must be unmistakable and moving and not make the audience giggle or feel embarrassed. I can see ourselves running through every color change in the spectrum, and, in the end, finding that it will depend on what you do subliminally. And that brings us to the triple-beings."

"The what?"

"You know. After the last melting, the superimposition remains permanent and we have the adult form that is all three components together. There, I think, we'll have to make them more human. Not human, mind you. Just more human. A faint suggestion of human form, not just subliminal, either. We'll need a voice that is somehow reminiscent of all three, and I don't know how the recorder can make that work. Fortunately, the triple-beings don't appear much in the story."

Willard shook his head. "And that brings us to the rough fact that the compu-drama might not be a possible project at all."

"Why not? You seem to have been offering potential solutions of all kinds for the various problems."

"Not for the essential part. Look! In King Lear, we had human characters, more than human characters. You had searing emotions. What have we got here? We have funny little cubes and ovals and drapery. Tell me how my Three in One is going to be different from an animated cartoon?"

"For one thing, an animated cartoon is two-dimensional. Even with elaborate animation it is flat, and its coloring is without shading. It is invariably satirical—"

"I know all that. That's not what I want you to tell me. You're missing the important point. What a compu-drama has, that a mere animated cartoon does not, are subliminal suggestions such as can only be created by a complex computer in the hands of an imaginative genius. What my compu-drama has that an animated cartoon doesn't is you, Meg."

"Well, I was being modest."

"Don't be. I'm trying to tell you that everything—everything—is going to depend on you. We have a story here that is dead serious. Our Emotional is trying to save Earth out of pure idealism; it's not her world. And she doesn't succeed, and she won't succeed in my version, either. No cheap, happy ending."

"Earth isn't exactly destroyed."

"No, it isn't. There's still time to save it if Laborian ever gets around to doing a sequel, but in this story the attempt fails. It's a tragedy and I want it treated as one—as tragic as Lear. No funny voices, no humorous actions, no satirical touches. Serious. Serious. Serious. And I'm going to depend on you to make it so. It will be you who makes sure that the audience reacts to the Rational, the Emotional, the Parental, as though they were human beings. All their peculiarities will have to melt away and they'll have to be recognized as intelligent beings on a par with humanity, if not ahead of it. Can you do it?"

Cathcart said dryly, "It looks as though you will insist I can."

"I do so insist."

"Then you had better see about getting the ball rolling, and you leave me alone while you're doing it. I need time to think. Lots of time."


The early days of the shooting were an unmitigated disaster. Each member of the crew had his copy of the book, carefully, almost surgically trimmed, but with no scenes entirely omitted.

"We're going to stick to the course of the book as closely as we can, and improve it as we go along just as much as we can," Willard had announced confidently. "And the first thing we do is get a hold on the triple-beings."

He turned to the head voice-recorder. "How have you been working on that?"

"I've tried to fuse the three voices."

"Let's hear. All right, everyone quiet."

"I'll give you the Parental first," said the recorder. There came a thin, tenor voice, out of key with the blockish figure that the Image man had produced. Willard winced slightly at the mismatch, but the Parental was mismatched—a masculine mother. The Rational, rocking slowly back and forth, had a somewhat self-important voice; enunciation over-careful, and it was a light baritone.

Willard interrupted. "Less rocking in the Rational. We don't want the audience to become seasick. He rocks when he is deep in thought, and not all the time."

He then nodded his head at Dua's draperies, which seemed quite successful, as did her clear and infinitely sweet soprano voice.

"She must never shriek," said Willard, severely, "not even when she is in a passion."

"She won't," said the recorder. "The trick is, though, to blend the voices in setting up the triple-being, in having each one distantly identifiable."

All three voices sounded softly, the words not clear. They seemed to melt into each other and then the voice could be heard enunciating.

Willard shook his head in immediate discontent. "No, that won't do at all. We can't have three voices in a kind of intimate patchwork. We'd be making the triple-being a figure of fun. We need one voice which somehow suggests all three."

The voice-recorder was clearly offended. "It's easy to say that. How do you suggest we do it?"

"I do it," said Willard, brutally, "by ordering you to do it. I'll tell you when you have it. And Cathcart—where is Cathcart?"

"Here I am," she said, emerging from behind her instrumentation. "Where I'm supposed to be."

"I don't like the sublimination, Cathcart. I gather you tried to give the impression of cerebral convolutions."

"For intelligence. The triple-beings represent the intelligence-peak of these aliens."

"Yes, I understand, but what you managed to do was to give the impression of worms. You'll have to think of something else. And I don't like the appearance of the triple-being, either. He looks just like a big Rational."

"He is like a big Rational," said one of the imagists.

"Is he described in the book that way?" asked Willard, sharply.

"Not in so many words, but the impression I get—"

"Never mind your impression. I'll make the decisions."

Willard grew fouler-tempered as the day wore on. At least twice he had difficulty controlling his passion, the second time coming when he happened to notice someone watching the proceedings from a spot at one edge of the lot.

He strode toward him angrily. "What are you doing here?"

It was Laborian, who answered quietly, "Watching."

"Our contract states—"

"That I am to interfere in the proceedings in no way. It does not say I cannot watch quietly."

"You'll get upset if you do. This is the way preparing a compu-drama works. There are lots of glitches to overcome and it would be upsetting to the company to have the author watching and disapproving."

"I'm not disapproving. I'm here only to answer questions if you care to ask them."

"Questions? What kind of questions?"

Laborian shrugged. "I don't know. Something might puzzle you and you might want a suggestion."

"I see," said Willard, with heavy irony, "so you can teach me my business."

"No, so I can answer your questions."

"Well, I have one."

"Very well," and Laborian produced a small cassette recorder. "If you'll just speak into this and say that you are asking me a question and wish me to answer without prejudicing the contract, we're in business."

Willard paused for a considerable time, staring at Laborian as though he suspected trickery of some sort, then he spoke into the cassette.

"Very well." said Laborian. "What's your question?"

"Did you have anything in mind for the appearance of the triple-being in the book?"

"Not a thing," said Laborian, cheerfully.

"How could you do that?" Willard's voice trembled as though he were holding back a final "you idiot" by main force.

"Easily. What I don't describe, the reader supplies in his own mind. Each reader does it differently to suit himself, I presume. That's the advantage of writing. A compu-drama would have an enormously larger audience than a book could have, but you must pay for that by having to present an image."

"I understand that," said Willard. "So much for the question, then."

"Not at all. I have a suggestion."

"Like what?"

"Like a head. Give the triple-being a head. The Parental has no head, nor the Rational, nor the Emotional, but all three look up to the triple-beings as creatures of intelligence beyond their own. That is the entire difference between the triple-beings and the three Separates. Intelligence."

"A head?"

"Yes. We associate intelligence with heads. The head contains the brain, it contains the sense organs. Omit the head and we cannot believe in intelligence. The headless oysters or clams are mollusks that seem no more intelligent to us than a spring of grass would be, but the related octopus, also a mollusk, we accept as possibly intelligent because it has a head—and eyes. Give the triple-being eyes, too."

Work had, of course, ceased on the set. Everyone had gathered in as closely as they thought judicious to listen to the conversation between director and author.

Willard said, "What kind of head?"

"Your choice. All you need is a bulge suggesting a head. And eyes. The viewer is sure to get the idea."

Willard turned away, shouting, "Well, get back to work. Who called a vacation? Where are the imagists? Back to the machine and begin trying out heads."

He turned suddenly and said, in an almost surly fashion, to Laborian. "Thank you!"

"Only if it works," said Laborian, shrugging.

The rest of the day was spent in testing heads, searching for one that was not a humorous bulge, and not an unimaginative copy of the human head, and eyes that were not astonished circles or vicious slits. Then, finally, Willard called a halt and growled, "We'll try again tomorrow. If anyone gets any brilliant thoughts overnight, give them to Meg Cathcart. She'll pass on to me any that are worth it." And he added, in an annoyed mutter, "I suppose she'll have to remain silent."


Willard was right and wrong. He was right. There were no brilliant ideas handed to him, but he was wrong for he had one of his own.

He said to Cathcart, "Listen, can you get across a top hat?"

"A what?"

"The sort of thing they wore in Victorian times. Look, when the Parental invades the lair of the triple-beings to steal an energy source, he's not an impressive sight in himself, but you told me you could just get across the idea of a helmet and a long line that will give the notion of a spear. He'll be on a knightly quest."

"Yes, I know," she said, "but it might not work. We'll have to try it out."

"Of course, but that points the direction. If you have just a suggestion of a top hat, it will give the impression of the triple-being as an aristocrat. The exact shape of the head and eyes becomes less crucial in that case. Can it be done?"

"Anything can be done. The question is: will it work?"

"We'll try it."

And as it happened, one thing led to another. The suggestion of the top hat caused the voice-recorder to say, "Why not give the triple-being a British accent?"

Willard was caught off-guard. "Why?"

"Well, the British have a language with more tones than we do. At least, the upper classes do. The American version of English tends to be flat, and that's true of the Separates, too. If the triple-being spoke British rather than English, his voice could rise and fall with the words—tenor and baritone and even an occasional soprano squeak. That's what we would want to indicate with the three voices out of which his voice was formed."

"Can you do that?" said Willard.

"I think so."

"Then we'll try. Not bad—if it works."


It was interesting to see how the entire group found themselves engaged in the Emotional.

The scene in particular where the Emotional was fleeing across the face of the planet, where she had her brief set-to with the other Emotionals caught at everyone.

Willard said tensely, "This is going to be one of the great dramatic scenes. We'll put it out as widely as we can. It's going to be draperies, draperies, draperies, but they must not be entangled one with the other. Each one must be distinct. Even when you rush the Emotionals in toward the audience I want each set of draperies to be a different off-white. And I want Dua's drapery to be distinct from all of them. I want her to glitter a little, just to be different, and because she's our Emotional. Got it?"

"Got it," said the leading imagist. "We'll handle it."

"And another thing. All the other Emotionals twitter. They're birds. Our Emotional doesn't twitter, and she despises the rest because she's more intelligent than they are and she knows it. And when she's fleeing—" he paused, and brooded a bit. "Is there any way we can get away from the 'Ride of the Valkyries'?"

"We don't want to," said the soundman promptly. "Nothing better for the purpose has ever been written."

Cathcart said, "Yes, but we'll only have snatches of it now and then. Hearing a few bars has the effect of the whole, and I can insert the hint of tossing manes."

"Manes?" said Willard, dubiously.

"Absolutely. Three thousand years of experience with horses has pinned us down to the galloping stallion as the epitome of wild speed. All our mechanical devices are too static, however fast they go. And I can arrange to have the manes just match, emphasize, and punctuate the flowing of the draperies."

"That sounds good. We'll try it."


Willard knew where the final stumbling block would be found. The last melting. He called the troupe together to lecture them, partly to make sure they understood what it was they were all doing now, partly to put off the time of reckoning when they would actually try to put it all into sound, image, and sublimination.

He said, "All right, the Emotional's interest is in saving the other world—Earth—only because she can't bear the thought of the meaningless destruction of intelligent beings. She knows the triple-beings are carrying through a scientific project, necessary for the welfare of her world and caring nothing for the danger into which it puts the alien world—us.

"She tries to warn the alien world and fails. She knows, at last, that the whole purpose of melting is to produce a new set of Rational, Emotional and Parental, and then, with that done, there is a final melting that would turn the original set into a triple-being. Do you have that? It's a sort of larval form of Separates and an adult form of triples.

"But the Emotional doesn't want to melt. She doesn't want to produce the new generation. Most of all, she doesn't want to become a triple-being and participate in what she considers their work of destruction. She is, however, tricked into the final melt and realizes too late that she is not only going to be a triple-being but a triple-being who will be, more than any other, responsible for the scientific project that will destroy the other world.

"All this Laborian could describe in words, words, words, in his book, but we've got to do it more immediately and more forcefully, in images and sublimination as well. That's what we're now going to try to do."

They were three days in the trying before Willard was satisfied.

The weary Emotional, uncertain, stretching outward, with Cathcart's sublimination instilling the feeling of not-sure, not-sure. The Rational and Parental enfolded and coming together, more rapidly than on previous occasions—hurrying for the superimposition before it might be stopped—and the Emotional realizing too late the significance of it all and struggling—struggling—

And failure. The drenching feeling of failure as a new triple-being stepped out of the superimposition, more nearly human than anyone else in the compu-drama—proud, indifferent.

The scientific procedure would go on. Earth would continue the downward slide.

And somehow this was it—this was the nub of everything that Willard was trying to do—that within the new triple-being the Emotional still existed in part. There was just the wisping of drapery and the viewer was to know that the defeat was not final after all.

The Emotional would, somehow, still try, lost though it was in a greater being.


They watched the completed compu-drama, all of them, seeing it for the first time as a whole and not as a collection of parts, wondering if there were places to edit, to reorder. (Not now, thought Willard, not now. Afterwards, when he had recovered and could look at it more objectively.)

He sat in his chair, slumped. He had put too much of himself into it. It had seemed to him that it contained everything he wanted it to contain; that it did everything he wanted to have done; but how much of that was merely wishful thinking?

When it was over and the last tremulous, subliminal cry of the defeated-but-not-yet-defeated Emotional faded, he said, "Well."

And Cathcart said, "That's almost as good as your King Lear was, Jonas."

There was a general murmur of agreement and Willard cast a cynical eye about him. Wasn't that what they would be bound to say, no matter what?

His eye caught that of Gregory Laborian. The writer was expressionless, said nothing.

Willard's mouth tightened. There at least he could expect an opinion that would be backed, or not backed, by gold. Willard had his hundred thousand. He would see now whether it would stay electronic.

He said, and his own uncertainty made him sound imperious, "Laborian. I want to see you in my office."


They were together alone for the first time since well before the compu-drama had been made.

"Well?" said Willard. "What do you think, Mr. Laborian?"

Laborian smiled. "That woman who runs the subliminal background told you that it was almost as good as your King Lear was, Mr. Willard."

"I heard her."

"She was quite wrong."

"In your opinion?"

"Yes. My opinion is what counts right now. She was quite wrong. Your Three in One is much better than your King Lear."

"Better?" Willard's weary face broke into a smile.

"Much better. Consider the material you had to work with in doing King Lear. You had William Shakespeare, producing words that sang, that were music in themselves; William Shakespeare producing characters who, whether for good or evil, whether strong or weak, whether shrewd or foolish, whether faithful or traitorous, were all larger than life; William Shakespeare, dealing with two overlapping plots, reinforcing each other and tearing the viewers to shreds.

"What was your contribution to King Lear? You added dimensions that Shakespeare lacked the technological knowledge to deal with, that he couldn't dream of; but the fanciest technologies and all that your people and your own talents could do could only build somewhat on the greatest literary genius of all time, working at the peak of his power.

"But in Three in One, Mr. Willard, you were working with my words which didn't sing; my characters, which weren't great; my plot which tore at no one. You dealt with me, a run-of-the-mill writer and you produced something great, something that will be remembered long after I am dead. One book of mine, anyway, will live on because of what you have done.

"Give me back my electronic hundred thousand, Mr. Willard, and I will give you this."

The hundred thousand was shifted back from one financial card to the other and, with an effort, Laborian then pulled his fat briefcase onto the table and opened it. From it, he drew out a box, fastened with a small hook. He unfastened it carefully, and lifted the top. Inside it glittered the gold pieces, each one marked with the planet Earth, the western hemisphere on one side, the eastern on the other. Large gold pieces, two hundred of them, each worth five hundred globo-dollars.

Willard, awed, plucked out one of the gold pieces. It weighed about one and a quarter ounces. He threw it up in the air and caught it.

"Beautiful," he said.

"It's yours, Mr. Willard," said Laborian. "Thank you for doing the compu-drama for me. It is worth every piece of that gold."

Willard stared at the gold and said, "You made me do the compu-drama of your book with your offer of this gold. To get this gold, I forced myself beyond my talents. Thank you for that, and you are right. It was worth every piece of that gold."

He put the gold piece back in the box and closed it. Then he lifted the box and handed it back to Laborian.



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