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Is Everybody Happy?

Morton Hommel, Ph.D., Director of the Banner Value Drug and Vitamin Laboratories, Inc., beamed proudly as old Sam Banner, the company's founder and president, sat back and squinted at the little bottle of dark-purple pills.

"They what?" said Banner.

"Eliminate the allergic response."

"You mean, they cure hay fever?"

"They do. And not only hay fever, but the entire spectrum of—"

"Hold on a minute. They do cure hay fever?"

Hommel got control of his enthusiasm.

"They alleviate the distress. They . . . ah—"

"Stop the sneezing?"

"Yes—and the other symptoms."

"How about the side effects?"

"Well . . . there we have a—" Hommel hesitated. "There seems to be only one side effect."

"What's that?"

"Well, it's . . . nothing uncomfortable. No sensation of tightness in the head, or sleepiness, or anything that can be classified as distressing in any way. Quite the contrary."

Banner set the pills on his desk.

Hommel struggled on. "It's . . . ah—Well, it's unusual, and yet, it s highly bene—That is, it's a good side effect."

"What is it?"

"There's an extremely pleasant sensation of . . . well . . . friendliness and fellow-feeling. Possibly, to some extent, this is a reaction from the distress experienced by the allergic individual—"

"If you've got hay fever and you take these pills, the pills make you feel friendly?"

Hommel hesitated. "Yes."

"Friendly toward what?"

"Well—There's a pleasant slightly euphoric—"

"Never mind the gold paper and fancy ribbon, Mort. You feel friendly. Is that right?"

"Yes. It's a . . . very pleasant sensation of fellow-feeling."

"Do you see things?"

Hommel blinked. "What—"

"Does the lamp post grow big violet eyes? Do you get swept off on a wonderful voyage of discovery, and learn the inner secrets of the universe, which evaporate after you get back?"

"No. It's definitely not hallucinogenic."

"You just feel friendly?"


"Friendly towards what?"

"Well . . . it's hard to define. It's a sense of fellow-feeling. By no stretch of the imagination could it be considered a harmful side effect."

"You think it's a good side effect?"

"Frankly, yes."

"Then let's nail down what it does."

"I don't know how better to describe it than to say it's a sensation of warm fellow-feeling and friendliness."

"You've taken the pills, yourself?"

"Yes. And they relieved my hay fever completely. I'm sure if you'd care to try the—"

Banner said dryly, "I don't have hay fever. Now, since you've tried it yourself—"

"And we've thoroughly tested it. My report—"

"Your report read like a banquet with all the delicacies—cooked in the cans. Kind of hard to digest."

Hommel opened his mouth and shut it. "I don't know how else to express it. You feel friendly. We need more friendliness in the world."

"Suppose you drive somewhere, and take this pill so you won't have hay fever?"

"Your reactions to driving situations are perfectly normal. There's no falling off in reaction time, no sleepiness, no feeling of unreality. You do feel more friendly toward other drivers. You're more likely to be accommodating, and less likely, for instance, to try to beat them at the light. We find the drug makes the user, indirectly, a more careful driver. This isn't its purpose, of course; but I don't see how it could be considered a harmful side effect."

"This feeling of friendliness—Do you feel friendly toward your car, for instance? Or just toward other people?"

"Possibly it's correct to say that a man is incidentally more careful of his car. I suppose that might be interpreted as friendliness. But the inner sensation is a sense of fellow-feeling, for other human beings."

Banner sat back and scowled at the bottle of small dark-purple pills.

"If it were entirely up to me, Mort, these pills would go straight down the nearest drain. Unfortunately—"

Hommel was astonished. "Why should we try to suppress this?"

"The question is academic, because we can't. But bear in mind, we get paid for killing germs and easing pain. Uplifting human nature is not our line of work."


"If we're going to stay in business, we can't ignore a money maker like this. But we're going to have to find out if we can get hay fever relief without incidentally making the customer feel friendly."

"But why eliminate a good side effect?"

"The customer isn't asking for it. The ideal drug does exactly what the customer buys it to do, and nothing else. He buys drugs to relieve an ache or kill a germ, not to have his head feel tight, to get sleepy, or to have green fur grow on his tongue."

"This is different."

"And, since we probably can't get rid of this side effect, we'll start work on an antidote."

Hommel felt staggered. "Antidote?"

"Right, Mort. An antidote. Just in case."

Despite Hommel's objections, Banner insisted. Being the boss, Banner got his way. The problem itself proved as interesting as the original problem, so that Hommel soon forgot his objections.

Meanwhile, the new drug appeared on the market, and Hommel exasperatedly read the label:


For relief of Allergy Symptoms. Take one to three tablets per day as required, to relieve symptoms of hay fever, or allergic response to dust, cat hair, egg white, or other causative agent. Nulllergin-200 is a new formulation, designed to overcome symptoms of allergic response to a wide range of substances. Like all drugs, it should be used in moderation. CAUTION: In some persons, Nullergin-200 has been found to apparently induce a sense of friendliness; discontinue use where this side effect is undesirable.

Where, Hommel asked himself, would a sense of friendliness be "undesirable"? Then he shrugged. The main thing was, this blessing for allergy sufferers was on the market.


The sales of Nullergin-200, with a minimum of advertising, picked up steadily. By hay-fever season, the cash registers were ringing all over the country. It was then that Banner called Hommel into his office.

"How's that antidote coming?"

"It's quite a complex problem. But we're making measurable progress."

"Measurable progress? Well, put all the man power on it you need, because we're getting into a measurable mess."

Hommel looked blank. "What do you mean?"

Banner had several newspapers on his desk, and tossed one over. "Look at the headlines."

Hommel read:


Management Yields After Long Struggle


Banner said, "Take a look at that picture."

Hommel frowned at a photograph of two men, the first grinning in triumph, the second smiling benevolently, with his arm around the other's shoulder. Behind them stood several rows of men, some smiling, some scowling, a few with handkerchiefs at their faces.

Hommel said blankly. "I see it. But—"

"Look at the part of the story that's circled."

Hommel spotted several paragraphs marked in heavy pencil:


Mr. Scharg explained that he wished the union well, and hoped the company would be able to offer a similar raise every year.

Asked for his comment, Mr. Kraggenpaugh, the union representative, expressed contentment with the contract "for the time being. If the management had accepted this offer earlier, it would have saved everyone trouble. This proves they could have done it all along."

Not available for comment was Maurice De Pugh, executive vice president, who earlier argued that accepting the union's demand would put the company out of business.

Mr. Scharg's sudden reversal took everyone by surprise. The question now raised is how Ulterior, in light of the latest drop in sales, can afford a pay raise it rejected last year, when it was making a profit.

Mr. Scharg's report to the upcoming stockholders' meeting is eagerly awaited.


Hommel frowned, and looked back at the photograph. The man smiling in friendship was identified as Mr. Scharg. The man grinning in triumph was Mr. Kraggenpaugh.

He studied the photograph more closely, and noticed that, of the men who had handkerchiefs raised, two apparently were blowing their noses, and one had his eyes shut, as if sneezing violently.

Banner said, "Kind of an unusual thing, Mort."

"It certainly is." Studying the photograph, Hommel could see a bulge in the pocket of Scharg's suit coat. It could be a pair of gloves. But who would carry gloves in hot weather? It could be a handkerchief. But Scharg did not look as if pollen were bothering him.

Or it could be a pill bottle.

Banner said, "Mort, this stuff doesn't put a man into a stupor, does it?"


"What happens if he takes an overdose?"

"Well, the more he takes, the greater the . . . the effect."

"The more pills he takes, the friendlier he gets?"

Unwillingly, Hommel said, "Yes."

Banner handed across another paper.

Hommel was confronted by large headlines:


Police Recover Youth
In High-Speed Chase
Father Hugs Kidnapper

A photograph showed a well-dressed man pumping the hand of a tough-looking individual handcuffed to an astonished policeman. Hommel glanced at the text:

". . . But this is the man who kidnapped your son!"
"I don't care," the boy's father told the police officer. "I just feel friendly toward everyone."

Hommel looked up. "We don't know he was using our product."

"Can you think of some other explanation?"

"No." Hommel looked puzzled.

"Neither can I. And here's something else I never heard of before." He handed Hommel a page torn out of a magazine.

Reluctantly, Hommel took it, to see an advertisement showing a cheerful overalled figure holding an electric drill, a section of an article about a high-speed passenger train, a small ad for a suction-plunger to clean out drains, and finally a paragraph circled in heavy pencil:

Our method brings Guaranteed Results. No need to exchange photos. This is not a pen-pal club. This method is New and Proven. You pick who you want for a friend in advance. Then take our Mystery Substance and use it. That's all. Now you have a friend! Can be used on anyone. Sex, age, social class, do not matter. Sound great? It is great! Full instructions included. Send $2.25 to Friendly Universe, Box 250, Dept. W3 . . .

Hommel looked up dizzily.

Banner pulled open a desk drawer, took out a small stamped package, opened it up, removed a stoppered vial from a cardboard tube, and unfolded a large sheet of paper labeled: "Now—A Friendship Essence—Here are your Instructions!"

Hommel swallowed hard, and read "Now, an ancient mystery from the mysterious East, but guaranteed by Modern Science, makes it possible for anyone—even you!—to have friends! And it is so easy! . . . Contained in this vial is the Mysterious Miracle Essence compounded from an ancient formula . . . some say the mysterious vital essences of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are condensed into it by magically enchanted strictly scientific equipment . . . but we say only, it works, and it's wonderful . . . All that you need to do is buy a simple atomizer at any drugstore, and spray this Mystery Essence around the room before your chosen friend gets there. Or, you go where they are, and squirt it around when they aren't looking . . . The Mystery Essence will do the rest. It never fails! . . . There is no law against this. It is perfectly legal, and you are doing them a favor . . . The power of the Mystery Essence will secretly protect your chosen friend against hay fever, cold and poison ivy! Refills available at $2.25 each from Friendly Universe, Box 250 . . ."

Hommel looked up in stupefaction. "Great, holy, leaping—"

Banner said, "You see, Mort, it isn't such a harmless side effect, is it?"

"I never imagined—" He stared at Banner. "Could you foresee all this?"

"Not the details. But if you should come in here with a little pill that cured headaches, and had no side effects, and nothing wrong with it, except that if you hit it with a hammer it would blow out ten city blocks . . . well, no one might be able to foresee the details, but they could tell something would happen when it went on the market."

"Yes, but this was friendliness."

"Are you saying, Mort, that friendship isn't a power in the world?"

"No. But—"

"Then, you see, these pills exert power. Just as surely as if they were TNT."

Hommel sat back in bafflement. "I see it. But it doesn't seem right."

Banner nodded. "If these pills were used right, there'd be no great problem. Some people will use them just as they should. But I would bet you, Mort, that right this minute there are others mashing these pills into a fine powder, touching a match to the powder, and then sniffing the smoke to see what happens. If one of these people dives out a tenth-story window because he has turned into a bird, and another starts eating ground glass because he can't be hurt, who do you suppose will get blamed?"

Hommel only nodded his head.

"Right. Keep working on that antidote."

Hommel did as he was told. Fueled by a large proportion of Banner's profits, the "antidote" project forged ahead at a strenuous pace. But Nullergin-200 went faster.

As the hay-fever season ended, the common-cold season took over. It developed that Nullergin-200 eliminated most of the symptoms of an ordinary cold. Sales increased.

Hommel, more and more immersed in his work, paid little attention to the outside world. But it was impossible to ignore it completely.

On his way to work one morning, he nearly smashed into the car in front, which had stopped considerately in a long line of traffic to let a second car back out of an alley. The driver of the second car, in his friendly appreciation, walked back to thank his benefactor. As Hommel stared in disbelief, this first driver got out to shake hands, and the two beamed upon one another until some unregenerate ten cars back let go a long blast on his horn.

Farther on, two small children were playing in the middle of the street, and all the traffic laboriously detoured around their cardboard tent. A large oil truck, in front of Hommel, had to back and fill to get around, and finally came to a stop. The driver, a large, tough-looking man in a worn leather jacket, walked over to the two children, bent down, and rumpled their hair. He smiled at Hommel in pure friendship.

"You live for your kids. Right, Jack?"

Hommel stared at the truck driver's massive shoulders, and snarled, "Right."

When Hommel got to the plant, he was an hour late. He wasn't in a very friendly mood himself.

Banner at once called him to his office.

"How's that antidote coming?"

"Our program would go a good deal faster if we had less socializing and more work."

"Our own people are taking the drug, eh?"

Hommel nodded. "They say it cuts down the symptoms of the common cold. That may be true, but—"

There was a brief tap at the door, and Hommel glanced around. The door opened, and Banner's secretary looked in, to gush, "Oh, Mr. Banner, I just had to come in for a minute, to say how much I do enjoy working for you."

Banner looked at her coolly. "I appreciate that, Miss Hemple, but—"

"I just love every minute here. And I think you're just the kindest employer. There, I had to say it. Thank you so much, Mr. Banner, for everything."

The door shut, and Banner stared at it.

"Is that what you mean, Mort?"

"That's how it starts. It gets worse when everyone tells everyone else how he enjoys having him for a co-worker. You take half-a-dozen people, and the permuta—"

"The what?"

Hommel paused. "There are thirty different ways they can congratulate one another on being good co-workers. At least thirty different ways."

Banner said soberly, "I've heard of the world ending by disasters. It never occurred to me it might end in a handshake."

Hommel started to reply, but was interrupted again, this time by a woman's scream echoing down the hall outside.

Banner and Hommel were on their feet at once. Banner seized a heavy cane he used for occasional bouts of rheumatism, and they went through the outer office, and reached the hall door just as there was a louder scream.

Hommel threw the door open, to see Viola Manning, one of his assistants, rush past.

Right behind her came Peabody, Hommel's promising young research chemist. Peabody's eyes were lit up in a kind of greenish murky light. Both his hands were stretched out after Viola Manning.

Hommel shouted, "What is this? Stop!"

Peabody didn't stop.

Banner shot out his heavy cane, entangling Peabody's legs.

Peabody's arms flailed, he hurtled forward off balance, and hit the floor with a crash.

Banner recovered his cane, and watched Peabody alertly.

Peabody groaned, sat up, and felt cautiously of his nose and face. He staggered to his feet.

Hommel eyed him coldly. "And just what the devil were you doing?"

"I . . . ah—"

From somewhere came a sound of sobbing, and a reassuring feminine voice giving words of comfort.

Peabody glanced around nervously. "Did I—"

Hommel said angrily, What were you doing?"

"I . . . I was dissolving some powdered Nullergin-200 in ethyl alcohol, and I . . . it occurred to me to wonder what the physiological effect—"

"You drank it?"

Peabody stared at his toes. "Yes."

Banner said, "How much?"

"Just a little . . . a few milliliters . . . hardly any—"

Hommel said, "You were dissolving it in pure ethyl alcohol?"

"Yes, but I diluted it. I poured in some water, shook in a little . . . er . . . sucrose . . . and—"

Banner said, "How many pills did you grind up in this punch?"

"The . . . the dissolved Nullergin-200 couldn't have been the equivalent of a tenth of a pill."

Hommel said grimly, "Then what happened?"

"I . . . ah . . . Viola—She had just come in, and—All of a sudden I saw her in a different light—" His face reddened. He said helplessly, "It was like friendship—only a lot more so."

Hommel said disgustedly, "Next time, stick a little closer to the planned experiment."

"Yes, Dr. Hommel. I will."

"Does Viola realize what happened?"


Banner said, "Did you drink up all of that stuff, or is there some left?"

"There's some left."

"Save it."

Hommel nodded. "And write it down, as accurately as possible, the quantities you used. Then you'd better take a few minutes to decide what you'll say to Viola Manning."

Peabody nodded grimly.

Hommel said, "I'll try to explain to her that it was a . . . er . . . toxic effect. Possibly you can find some better explanation."

When Peabody had gone off, pale and shaken, Banner went back into his office, and Hommel had the job of explaining to Viola Manning.

That evening, when Hommel got back to his apartment, the daily paper told of a town in the mid-west that had found the way to peace and friendship—through putting Nullergin-200 in the water supply.

When he got up the next morning, the news broadcast told of two daring bandits who, late the previous afternoon, had walked into a bank in a friendly town in the mid-west, and cleaned it out. The bank guard explained, "I just felt too friendly to stop them."

What riveted Hommel's attention was the bank president's comment: "The trouble with those boys was just that they haven't been drinking our water. I wonder if there's any way to spray the friendship medicine in the air?"

"'Friendship medicine,'" muttered Hommel. Then he headed out into the morning traffic jam. This business of waiting out delays at intersections, while drivers politely waved each other ahead, was getting on his nerves.

Late in the week, Banner called Hommel to his office.

"How's the antidote coming, Mort?"

"Assuming there is an antidote, we might find it faster with . . . ah . . . fewer complications in interpersonal relationships."

"How's Viola Manning taking it?"

"She looks around with a start when the door opens."

"How about Peabody?"

"He's drowning himself in work," said Hommel.

"Good." Banner picked up a newspaper. "If you'd just glance over the items circled on the front page, Mort."

Hommel glanced over the front page, to notice to his horror that practically every news item was circled:

Accept Voluntary Pay Cut
"We Love Each Other" Say Rival Gang Chiefs
"Friendship Bombs" End Long-Drawn War
Guerrillas Emerge From Jungle Hideout
Nullergin-200 Gives Double Dose of Blessings
No Sniffles No Snarls
Ends Colds, Strife With Same Method
Eloped With Garbage Collector
Class No Obstacle To True Friendship
Soviets Claim Treaty Sprayed With Superdrug

Hommel looked up dazedly.

Banner said, "Things are picking up, Mort."

"But is it better, or worse?"

"Take a look at the folded page."

Hommel turned back to a page with the corner folded, to read:

Productivity Per Man-Hour Hits New Low Again This Month

Hommel read the article, certain comments standing out boldly:

". . . Blamed on on-the-job socializing and increased hesitancy of supervisory personnel to force the pace . . . 'After all, we're all one happy family,' says the superintendent of the Boswah Corporation's East Steelport plant . . . claimed it is possible to keep production lines moving but only by slowing them further . . . 'There is a much nicer atmosphere around here,' comments one worker, sipping her coffee as the line idles by, 'It used to be hurry-hurry-hurry' . . . Executives agree, 'Our competitors have the same problem. Why would we want to hurt their business by stepping up productivity. They're basically very nice people.' . . . Dissenter is the crusty, hard-lining president of Kiersager Corporation, who insists, 'We will fire every one of these pooped-out friendship addicts that turns up for work. This mess of flabby hand-shakers is so much clotted blood in the arteries of commerce.'"
Hommel looked up. "Is it like this all over the country?"

"Can you think of anyone who doesn't want to avoid colds?"

"No. Everyone wants to avoid them," Hommel said.

"And how many people are there now who are against taking drugs on principle?"

"Not many."

Banner nodded. "This was bound to come along sooner or later. If people would only use the stuff in moderation, there'd be no problem. But they figure if two pills are good, four pills are twice as good."

Hommel said glumly, "At least it isn't habit-forming."

"No, but if you take two pills before breakfast long enough, you've got the habit whether the pills themselves are habit-forming or not. And if without the pills you snarl at people, and with the pills you feel friendly, which way will most people want to feel?"


"Right. And if things get so exasperating they stop feeling friendly, they take more pills. And it's a little hard to regulate it, when the friendly authorities are using it themselves. Worse yet, supposing every factory on earth stopped making the pills tomorrow? First, the stuff is somewhat cumulative, and second, consider the uproar when it suddenly wore off. What we need is something so we can come out of this slowly."

Hommel stared at the paper. "But it's doing some good."

"So does a dose of castor oil. But one dose is enough. Keep hunting for that antidote."


Time passed, and more and more money and effort went into finding an antidote. Peabody, driven by a compounded sense of humiliation, seemed to think he could only justify his existence by finding the antidote, and was working day and night with every sign of being close on the trail of something.

Meanwhile, in case their attempt to find an antidote should prove useless, Hommel in desperation was following up an improbable project designed to produce some natural antidote. The drug overcame hay fever, the argument went, so maybe a stronger causative agent for hay fever might overcome the drug. Since anything seemed worth a try, some two hundred isolated acres of unsettled land were given over to ragweed culture. Some fields were studded with the housing of potent radiation sources, while others were sprayed with special chemicals. While a desperate watch was kept for promising mutations and hybrids, the mere sight of these fields, with dark-green monster ragweeds looming twenty feet tall, and others creeping mosslike along the ground, was enough to give chills to anyone who remembered when hay fever had been a real complaint.

At present, of course, only the stubbornly individualistic suffered from hay fever. These sneezed their way through life, observing with acid contempt the deterioration in quantity and quality of goods and services. Where others offered an eager handshake, this minority shoved its way past with a snarl.

Banner and Hommel, one summer afternoon, drove toward town to send a telegram. They cautiously detoured cars stopped by motorists who just wanted a little talk for friendship's sake, and stopped warily for traffic lights that didn't work, and were flagged down by friendly truck drivers who wanted to share their cargoes.

Laden down with watermelons, hundred-pound boxes of nails, a five-gallon can of asphalt roof-coating, two crates of chickens, and a tin of frozen blueberries, they finally made it to the telegraph office, and stepped inside, to find a woman clerk chatting on the phone.

A tall thin man wearing a green eyeshade got up as they came in.

Banner said, "We've got a carload lot of chemicals we want to trace. We haven't been able to reach anyone by phone. What's the chance of a wire getting through?"

"Depends on who's on the other end." The man removed his eyeshade and glanced pointedly at the woman clerk. Her conversation was clearly audible:

". . . They're the nicest people. We just told them we couldn't pay it, and they said to forget it. The bank has lots of money anyway, and they didn't need it. . . . Then Howard got his bill from the hospital, and that was two thousand seven hundred, and we were just frightened, what with the plant closing and all—but that nice Mrs. What's-her-name in the office there said she'd just drop our record right out of the file. What does anyone need money for, anyway? Aren't we all friends? So then . . ."

The three men glanced at each other. Banner cleared his throat.

"Well, it won't hurt to try."

The telegrapher slid over a pad of forms and a pencil. "Speaking of lost cars, they're getting fairly common. As I understand it, the solution is to accept a carload lot of whatever happens to be lost in your neighborhood. Somebody somewhere else takes your carload lot which is lost in his territory." He added dryly, "It's the friendly way out. Saves the railroad a lot of trouble."

Banner tore a form off the pad. "A slight complication in the manufacturing process."

"Yes, I think that is starting to show up. Possibly you gentlemen can identify this for me." He reached under a counter, and produced a bottle labeled, "Count Sleek—The man's hair tonic that's friendly to your scalp. Invigorates. Refreshes. With RB 37."

Hommel took the bottle curiously. The liquid inside appeared clear, save for a few black specks drifting around in it. He unscrewed the plastic cap, noted a little whitish crust on the rim, and what appeared to be small transparent grains of some kind on the thread. Frowning, he sniffed cautiously, but noticed no odor. He screwed the cap back on, and stood weighing the bottle in his hand. For its size, it felt heavy.

The man behind the counter said, "I've used that brand of hair tonic before. This stuff doesn't look right or smell right, and the bottle doesn't even feel right."

Frowning, Hommel took a piece of tissue paper from his pocket—put there in preparation for the approaching hay-fever season—folded the tissue, unscrewed the cap from the bottle, and poured a few drops of the liquid on the folded paper. The liquid, which had seemed watery in the bottle, looked oily on the paper. The wet paper promptly turned brownish.

Scowling, Hommel wiped the bottle with an edge of the folded tissue. The paper dissolved away, leaving, one beside the other, four curved blacked edges with a charred look. The large oily drop in the center of the paper sat there as the paper beneath turned black, then suddenly, the paper shrank away in a thin film to expose the next layer.

From the tissue arose a sharp pungent odor.

Behind the counter, the telegrapher watched alertly.

"I've seen hair tonic I liked better."

Hommel cleared his throat. "My guess is, it's concentrated sulfuric acid."

Banner said, "They sold it in that bottle?"

"They did. I suppose a shipment of the wrong stuff reached the place where they make that—or maybe some chemical factory got a load of the wrong bottles. If enough people will just be obliging, practically anything can happen."

Banner and Hommel went soberly back outside.

"Are we," said Banner, "near even a partway-workable solution?"

"We're near half-a-dozen different solutions," said Hommel hauntedly. "But they're completely worthless until we arrive at something actually usable."

The rest of the month passed with slow breakdowns that roused little notice, because—who would be so unfriendly as to complain?

Hommel, sneezing violently during hay-fever season, but avoiding Nullergin-200 as he would avoid poison, was among those who did not feel friendly when he bought gasoline and got kerosene, and when he went to a store to purchase some staples, and found a can swollen out at both ends as if packed under high pressure.

"What's wrong," he asked. "Did they overload these cans?"

"It isn't that they put too much in the cans," said a clerk, in a friendly way, "it's just that everything inside is spoiled, and that makes gas."

That night, nothing else having worked yet, Hommel prayed long and earnestly for a solution.

The next day dawned with an impressive pollen count, and the rest of the week went by with Hommel progressively more miserable. He had scarcely walked into his air-conditioned office one day when Peabody, dark circles under his eyes, came in.

"Unless I'm completely insane, which is possible, I've got it."

Hommel stared at him, afraid to speak.

Peabody said, "I mean, the Nullergin-200 antidote."

Hommel said dizzily, "That's wonderful. Did—"

The phone rang. Hommel picked it up, and motioned Peabody to sit down.

An excited voice demanded, "Hello? Morton?"


"This is Arthur Schmidt, out at the test plot. Look, Morton, we have a plant here that makes everyone sneeze . . . Do you hear me?"

Hommel stared at the phone. "What is the effect on . . . ah . . . disposition?"

"Terrible. With that first sneeze, believe me, all that friendly accommodating feeling evaporates."

"That's wonderful. Listen, you've isolated the particular plant that—"

"Yes, we know which one does it. It's quite a remarkable thing. A very ordinary, unprepossessing little plant, but it releases veritable clouds of extremely fine pollen. An unusual thing about this—it reproduces also, and I must say prolifically, not only by wind-borne pollen, but also by a kind of tumbleweed layering effect."

"By a—what?"

"And some of the other plants have evidently hybridized."

"Wait a minute. This thing reproduces how?"

"To put it plainly, parts of the stalk grow constricted when the plant reaches a height of approximately eight inches, and a blow or moderate wind causes it to break off. The plant has quite a lightweight structure, you see, Morton, and as a result of the construction of the stem, apparently it becomes partially desiccated—that is, dried out."

"I know what desiccated means," snapped Hommel. "Then what happens?"

"Then the . . . er . . . dried-out portion of stem and leaves is carried off a considerable distance, tumbling, rolling, being lifted up by the wind—"

"Then what?" The air-conditioner in the room was providing pure, pollen-free air, but Hommel could feel his nose tingle. "What happens when this thing goes tumbling—"

"Why, bits of the leaves break off, somewhat in the manner of—Possibly you're familiar with a plant commonly known as . . . ah . . . the 'lawyer plant,' I believe, or possibly it's called the . . . let's see . . . 'maternity plant,' which—Are you acquainted—"

"No. What does this have to do—"

"Why, essentially the same mechanism, Morton. When the leaf finds a little moisture, a suitable bit of ground—it takes root, and grows. A new plant, you see."

Hommel had a mental image of the world covered with a rolling carpet of ragweed.

"Listen, if you break a piece of leaf off of this super-ragweed, the piece of leaf grows into another super-ragweed?"

The reply was cold. "Rather an imprecise way to express it, Dr. Hommel, but—Yes, essentially, that is correct."

Hommel got control of himself. "Excuse me, Dr. Schmidt. My excitement at this, ah, this extraordinary achievement—So timely, too—You understood."

"Certainly, Morton, certainly. Forgive me if I seemed a trifle sharp. I misunderstood."

"Will you excuse me now? I want to inform Mr. Banner of the achievement."

"Banner? What does he know about it? Oh, he has money . . . but in a scientific sense, he is an ignoramus."

"Yes, of course. But when a piece of research particularly impresses him, he often provides more . . . ah . . . funds, to extend—"

"Yes, yes, Morton. I understand. Yes, I think he should know."

Hommel hung up. "My God! Little ragweeds all over the place!" Despite the air-conditioning, Hommel sneezed.

"Dr. Hommel?" said Peabody blankly.

Hommel stared at him, then said abruptly. "You say you have the 'antidote.' You were looking for some chemical that would stimulate the function the Nullergin-200 depressed?"

"That didn't work. I went back to another idea—something that would go right into the body and break up the Nullergin-200. Well, I've got it."

"What are the side effects?"

"That's one of the things that's taken me so long. So far as I can see, there are no noticeable side effects. You see, this is similar to an enzyme. A comparatively small amount will break down any quantity of Nullergin-200, given time. But, in the body, the enzyme is itself slowly broken down. Since only a comparatively small quantity needs to be used, the side effects are negligible, so far as I've been able to find out."

"And the decomposition products?"

"They're excreted."

"Is this enzyme hard to produce?"

"The process is partly biological. Temperature, pH—quite a number of factors need to be carefully controlled to get a good yield. But there's nothing particularly hard about it."

Hommel sat back. "Have you thought how we might use this?"

"Well, if for now we put it in the coating of the pills, the pills will still work—but the effect will wear off faster. And the more pills taken the more quickly the following pills will wear off, because the Neutranull, as I call it, will accumulate. By varying the proportion of Neutranull to Nullergin, we determine, subject to individual variation, the length of time a given daily dosage will be effective."

"And," said Hommel excitedly, "since hay-fever season lasts only so long, this is what we need."

A little work with pencil and paper, with Peabody providing the constants involved, suggested that varied proportions of Neutranull would eliminate the Nullergin-200, as slowly or rapidly as desired, and that the only way to get protection after a given time was to increase the dosage. If this was carried far enough, the effect of the Nullergin could be strung out for a long time—but as a result the Neutranull would build up to such a point that it would still make trouble during the next attack of hay fever.

"Well," said Hommel, "if anyone takes a reasonable dosage, he'll be all right. Good enough. Now, can we market this in time?"

Together, they went over the details. Then they went down to Banner's office.

Before the day was out, Banner Drugs was hard at work on the new process. But, as Banner pointed out, their problems were not solved.

"Even if we get this distributed without any trouble, Mort, there's still Schmidt's improved ragweed. If that pollen is blowing around, how do we stop it?"

"Possibly, it was developed indoors, in a greenhouse," said Hommel grimly. "At any rate, there isn't much of anything I wouldn't be prepared to try to stop it."

"Luckily," said Banner, "we are now well enough known to get our suggestions listened to. Maybe we can get this genie back in the bottle. Get Schmidt on the phone—if you can get him on the phone—and have him come down here. If he drives at night, he may be able to make it without getting glued fast in friendship along the way."

Late the following afternoon, Banner and Hommel met with a tough-looking individual who arrived wearing his hat like a uniform cap, a suave personage who smiled easily and radiated power, and a bulky glum-looking man with a Russian name. There were also three technicians and a quantity of electronic equipment.

As Banner explained courteously to Schmidt. "This is in your honor, Dr. Schmidt. These people are here to learn about your . . . ah . . . epochal discovery. This is General Harmer, Mr. Hall, and Ambassador Kurenko. Your description of your discovery will be simultaneously broadcast and recorded as you give it. Thanks to your reputation, there, of course, is no doubt as to the reality of your achievement. Nevertheless, there are experts of various nationalities listening in, and they may want to ask some questions, which they can do over this hookup. Your words will be translated, incidentally, as you speak them"

Schmidt looked impressed. "May I ask, Mr. Banner, what is the advantage of having a military man here?"

"General Harmer is the President's personal representative. The President couldn't come himself."

"Ah—" said Schmidt. "I see. Excuse me. Well, gentlemen—Shall I begin?"

Banner glanced at the technicians, who nodded.

"Start whenever you want," said Banner, "and just tell us in whatever way you want."

"Well, then—I will begin with method. Knowing time was short, I decided upon a brute-force approach. Not so crude, perhaps, as adopted by the well-known innovator, Edison, but using the same general principle, developed more scientifically. I decided to try every conceivable method and combination of methods, possible in the space and time, and with the equipment available, sacrificing precise determination of the interrelations of the causative factors involved, in favor of—results."

Schmidt then proceeded to describe, in short clear language, a set of procedures designed to produce the maximum possible genetic variation in the shortest possible time. At the end, he concluded, "With such methods, success or failure depends on chance and the unknown. Our tools are still too crude, and our knowledge too imprecise to enable us to proceed on a basis of exact knowledge. However, the method that worked for Edison has also worked in this instance, as I shall demonstrate. We now have, gentlemen, a variant of the common ragweed that no drug on earth can resist. For the record, I here produce a sample of biologically-inactivated pollen." He removed a small, thick glass tube, about the size of a two-inch cut off a lead pencil. "Is anyone here subject to hay fever?"

Banner, Hall, Harmer, Kurenko, and the three technicians all shook their heads. Hommel reached into his side pocket, said, "I am," and shook three small old-style pills of Nullergin-200 into his hand. As Schmidt nodded, and began to pull the stopper out of the vial, Hommel, who know Schmidt as a demon experimenter, at once took the pills. A warm feeling of friendship spread through him, reassuring him that the Nullergin-200 had taken effect.

"Ah," said Schmidt, "here we are. You see, the biologically inactive pollen, still—" He got the stopper out of the bottle, and instantly shoved it back in again.

A sensation like a double-prong fork made of red-hot pepper moved up Hommel's nose. His vision blurred as a layer of burning dust seemed to coat his eyes. His ears itched. The inside of his mouth felt as if he had just eaten two large plates of overseasoned chili. The room rang with violent sneezes from Banner, Harmer, and everyone save Schmidt. Through a sea of tears, Hommel could see Schmidt stretched out on the floor, his face covered with red blotches.

Every breath Hommel drew was like a breath of finely-ground pepper. He sneezed until he ached so that he didn't dare to sneeze, while at the same time he had to sneeze. His throat constricted so that to draw a breath was like sucking a half-frozen drink through a flattened straw.

Something flashed across his wavering field of vision, and there was the crash of breaking glass.

For a brief instant, Hommel could see Banner, his heavy cane upraised, knocking out one window after another, in a room full of choking, gasping, strangling men.

Then Hommel drew in the wire-thin end of a breath of air so cool and uncontaminated that it seemed as sweet as fresh spring water to a man dying of thirst. Then everything whirled around him.

Hommel came to fitfully several times, and finally awoke in a pastel-green room, where several other pajama-clad occupants crowded around a big TV.

Banner, wearing a blue bathrobe, prodded Harmer and Kurenko to move apart, leaving a slot through which Hommel could see a stretch of barren lifeless landscape, across which there slowly came into view a small figure in some kind of dully-glinting suit, carrying a kind of wand in one hand. As this figure passed out of Hommel's range of vision, there appeared a large-wheeled slow-moving armored machine.

The whole scene looked so alien to Earth that Hommel said, "What is that—the surface of the Moon?"

"No," said Banner, "that's what's left of the ragweed test site. They're checking for radioactivity right now."

Hommel leaned back. They could take the whole site and throw it into orbit beyond Pluto as far as he was concerned.

Banner said thoughtfully, "It's an odd thing. Progress is generally supposed to mean, moving forward. Once a scientific development appears, for instance, you generally can't suppress it. You have to adapt to it, and go on."

"Let's hope," said Hommel fervently "that we can suppress one or two of these latest developments."

Banner nodded gravely. Then he said in a low voice:

"Sometimes, if you can even move backward, that's progress."


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