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The Dweller in the Ice





"My dear woman, it's always snowing here. Well, maybe not really always, but it certainly seems that way. This weather may seem bad to you, but—well, I've been on this sort of work for thirty-five years, They didn't have any Salts to take the place of fur parkas and bonfires when I started. There were times then when a man who walked outside the ship's port, or who stepped out onto the ice for a second, could have got lost immediately, and frozen to death within the hour. And, even now . . . whup!"

Captain Truxel broke off his flow of chatter voluntarily for almost the first time in four days, as he grabbed the helm of the speeding ship. With a quick flip he slammed the manual control over to starboard; the rudder motors whined angrily into action, twisting the ship's course to the right. For a second the vessel careened crazily to the left, until the tiny, odd-shaped screws of the vortex-keel also hit their speed and once more straightened the ship.

"Iceberg," Truxel explained briefly as he returned the ship more leisurely to its course. "No danger, of course, but it could have caused a lot of annoyance if it had stripped the speed-sheathing from the hull—or if we had climbed right up onto it. I've heard of ships that. . . ."

"I think we'd better get below," Kye Whalen interrupted impatiently. "We've got to pack up a lot of things before we land. Don't we, Beatta?"

"I'm afraid so," his wife smiled, taking all the sting out of their departure for the Captain. "When will we land, please?"

"Oh, about half an hour from now, I guess." The Captain didn't like to have listeners walk out on him, but long experience had got nun pretty well used to it. "And stay away from the heated sections while you're below. The Salts will burn you to a pair of frizzled cinders if you don't."

That was an exaggeration. And yet it was dangerous to go anywhere where there was what might normally be called bearable warmth when one had the heat-producing Hormone Salts in the bloodstream. The germ-produced fevers were nothing compared to the inferno produced in the body of one who disobeyed that vital rule. Wonderfully valuable though the Salts were in such things as Antarctic exploration, their use was limited for that reason.

Kye was moody as they descended. As soon as they gained their cabin, he slouched down on the side of the bed, not looking at her.

With quick understanding, Beatta stepped to his side and threw an arm about his shoulder. "I know what the matter is, darling," she said. "You're still worrying about the transfer. Aren't you?"

Kye stiffened. "Why shouldn't I be?"

Beatta groaned mentally. They had been over this a hundred times. Kye was so maddeningly sensitive about his ability to provide for her. "Dear," she said. "After all, this isn't so bad. This wave of carelessness or whatever it is has to be stopped, if the drill-jewels are to come out of the ice. And they send you down to make sure of it!"

Kye glared at her. "Beatta, that's all very fine. But what gets me is, they don't need a mining engineer here at all; they need a psychiatrist. The machines are working fine, according to the reports. It's the people that are at fault. They've had fifty accidents here in one month! What can I do about that?"

Out of her woman's wisdom, Beatta said, "You'll do something, Kye. You'll see, dear, you'll feel a lot better about it when we get to the mine." She stood up and essayed a smile, to which Kye responded, weakly. "Now let's get packed!"


Beatta was wrong. Even when they had been at the mine site for a full week, and more, Kye's mood was still with him. The mere fact of his presence hadn't been enough to stop the wave of accidents.

The "mine" wasn't anything at all like any ordinary mine. Kye's company—International Milling Machines, Inc.—manufactured all sorts of machine-tool equipment, needed semi-precious and precious stones for drill-points. Intermill, as the company was called, had sponsored for publicity an astronomical observatory near one of their plants in the Andes.

The observatory had detected a brand-new comet, a wanderer, approaching the Solar System in an orbit almost at right angles to the plane of the ecliptic; had followed the comet's tortuous course, spectro-analyzed it, and seen an unusual display of meteorites strike the Earth's Southern Hemisphere at about the time the main body of the comet was heading sharply in for the sun—with which it collided.

It took no great deductive ability to realize that the meteorites had been part of the comet's body, and to see further that they must contain a large amount of the carbon that the spectrograph had shown in the comet itself. So Intermill had sponsored an expedition, found some of the stones, and been delighted to find their utility as industrial gems. For the Earthdrawn meteorites were shot through with every manner of jewel!

Kye's routine, at first, had been simple. A top-notch mining engineer, he had checked over all the equipment; visited the mine-shafts; slid himself on a cable down the slick and unutterably frigid tubes in the ice made by the heat-borers. Everything was in perfect order.

He reported as much to Beatta.

"Of course there's nothing wrong with the diggings," she said. "You knew that before you came here."

"Well—yes, I knew it. In a way. But I have to make sure for myself. I'm going to tackle the generators next, and see if they're working all right. Five of the accidents were there, after all. Maybe. . . ."

Beatta stamped her foot. "Maybe nothing!" she cried. "You know there's nothing wrong with any of the machines here. It's the people! Remember what you said on the ship, Kye?—that they didn't need an engineer here, but a psychiatrist? Kye, I think that you are the one who needs a psychiatrist now!"

Kye stared at her woodenly. His lips shaped words, but were stopped before the words came out. He turned on his heel, walked out as though on stilts. "I'm going to look at the generator," floated back to Beatta as she gazed, startled, at his departing back.

Beatta sat erect. "Kye! Kye! Come back!"

But he was gone.


Beatta sat on her hard chair for three hours and more, trying to think the thing out. What had happened to Kye? To every man she knew? A schoolboy could see that Kye was terribly wrong in looking for mechanical trouble to explain the slowing of production. No, it was a mood that had gripped the men at the camp.

And—her brow unconsciously wrinkled in perplexity—why was she unaffected? Except for the contagion from Kye, her spirits were normally high. So, it seemed, were the spirits of the half-dozen other women at the mine site. . . .

Suddenly the house-lights flickered and went out. The radio, which she had left playing away in another room, died also.

A fuse burnt out?

She whispered a mild oath, fumbled a flashlight out of a drawer, and sought the fuse-box. She put a new fuse in place and snapped down the contacts.

But the lights did not spring up.

Had something happened to the power-source?

If the generator had temporarily gone out of order, a very possible thesis, the batteries should have cut in immediately.

As if in answer to the unspoken thought, the lights came on again, noticeably dimmer than before. Beatta salvaged the fuse she had removed and thrown away, and went back into the bedroom.

Kye was there, sitting on the bed, gazing at the wall.

"What happened to the lights, dear?" asked Beatta.

"One of the bearing-mounts had a flaw. It split, and the generator stopped. They'll fix it pretty soon."

There was something odd—odder, even, than had become usual—about Kye's listless speech. "Did Preston call up to tell you about it?"

"No," said Kye, stirring restlessly. "I saw that it would happen when I was there. The flaw had opened up to the surface, and it was only a matter of time until it was bound to split right off. I should have taken it down then, I guess, but . . . ." His voice trailed off and he shut his eyes, stretching back across the bed. "It would have been such a lot of trouble. It doesn't matter, really, dear. They'll have it all fixed, sooner or later."

"Kye, I've got to talk to you. There's something—oh, I've said that a hundred times. But it's true. Kye, what makes you act like an irresponsible baby?"

A hunted look crept into Kye's eyes. "I don't know, Beatta," he said slowly.

"The way things are—it's just too much trouble to do anything. Oh, I knew what I should have done when I saw that flaw. Everyone there—Preston, and Argyle, and the rest—they all knew it was there too."

"Well then! Why didn't you—"

Kye raised a restraining hand. "I know. But. . . . Beatta, do you know how it feels to be utterly alone? Lost, away from every person you can talk to? Like Bale's 'Man Without a Country.' That's how I feel, Beatta; as though I were exiled and an outcast. As though I never would see my home again, or see you again, darling,—even when I'm right in the same room with you I feel that way. I can't explain it."

Beatta sat down beside him, her hands clasped in her lap, not wanting to disturb him by touching him sympathetically. His utter dejection made him unapproachable. "Why don't we women feel it, Kye?"

"I don't know." His eyes closed; he withdrew into himself.

Beatta sat regarding him for a while. She tried to get him to speak, but he would not be cajoled.

Then she got to her feet and walked out into the snow.


Christine Arbrudsen was at home. Nominally the Recreations Director of the little mining colony, her job had no duties at all now—for none of the men had left any interest in recreation. Christine was a friendly girl, and Beatta had liked her from the start. In the week they had known each other they had become the best of friends. Beatta spoke directly:

"Christine, you've got to help me. I'm going to try to find out something about this—this craziness that's got every man in the field. I think I know just about what to do and where to go; and I want you to come along. I may not be able to do everything alone."

Christine nodded in quick understanding. "I know," she said. "You want to investigate that borer, don't you? The one that turned aside?"

"How did you know?" gasped Beatta.

"I observe things too," Christine smiled. "I tried to talk some of the men into looking into the matter, but you know how they are. I was going to make the trip tomorrow, alone. But you're right—it's better that two of us should go."

Among the mishaps of the mine had been a minor one when a heat-borer had deflected itself from the normal, almost vertical course, melting through the ice on a long diagonal and coming perilously close to a "bubble"—a sort of inverted pit in the ice where submarine currents had hollowed out a cavern. Had it actually penetrated the bubble it would have been the last ever heard of that borer—but one of the men, making a routine checkup, had discovered the one that was out of its place, and stopped its power in time to rescue it.


After Beatta had left him, Kye lay in a stupor for a while. Several hours passed; it grew "dark" outside as the sodium lamps were extinguished and the pale violet, fluorescent night-time lamps took their place. Naturally, there was no such thing as night or day in the Antarctic, where six months passed between the rising of the sun and its setting. An arbitrary period of eighteen hours, based on the needs of the body for rest with the use of the Salts, had been chosen for the "day"; the life of the colony was regulated accordingly.

Eventually Kye got up and prepared himself some food. Beatta was not home; without much interest he wondered what had become of her.

Having eaten, he went back immediately to bed. . . .

And when his phone buzzer sounded thrice, and the sodium lamps went on again to indicate morning, Beatta was not in the bed yet. She hadn't been home at all.

He ate again, hurriedly and without enjoyment. His increasing anxiety was cracking away the armored shell of apathy. Unable to contain himself, he got up in the middle of the meal and phoned all the places she might possibly be. She wasn't at the Prestons', he was assured; no, they hadn't seen her at the Dispensary, but thought she might have stayed with Christine Arbrudsen, who had been asking for her the day before.

There was no answer to Christine's phone, though.

He made call after call, till he had almost exhausted the score or so of other phones on the line. But when he called the generator plant, the phone suddenly went dead in the middle of the conversation. Simultaneously, the sodium lights, which had been growing dimmer, went out completely. The entire camp became black as the night sky above.

The fault in the generator hadn't been repaired, he realized, and the emergency batteries had been drained. The camp was powerless.

Suddenly it came to Kye, where Beatta was. The borer! She had wanted him to look into it; he'd refused, so she'd done it herself.

He hastened out, in the direction of the airplane hangar.


When the two girls got to the runaway borer, they suddenly realized they'd no actual plans made. They held a hasty conference.

The upshot of the debate was that they'd send the borer down once more, as far as it would go before making the slant; then follow it down, hand-over-hand, on the cable.

They hooked up the borer to its cable; tuned it in on the radio power-beam. It slipped through the ice very rapidly. The hole was there already; all that the borer had to do was to eat away the tiny bit of ice that formed since it last went in; widen the tube where the rheological movement of the ice had, with all its titanic weight and force, crushed its walls together; and remove the snow that had drifted in. (The water formed by the passage of the borer through the ice was automatically pumped to the surface, where it immediately solidified.)

Beatta was watching the cable as it paid off the winch. When it reached the eight-hundred foot mark—the point where it had suddenly swerved off before—she cut off the power. She rose and looked at Christine.

"Well-how shall we work it?" she asked. "Draw lots, or both of us go down together?"

"Draw lots," Christine said immediately. She rummaged through her pockets. "Here," she said. "I've got a quarter and a dime in my hands. Pick one hand. If you get the quarter-you go down. The dime—I do."

Without hesitation, Beatta touched the right hand. The quarter!

"Help me put on the armor," she said, not a quaver in her voice. "And let's decide what I'm to do. As I see it, I'll slide down. When I reach the bottom 111 let you know. Then you turn on the power. I'll try to steer the borer straight at whatever seems to be drawing it. And I'll tell you whatever I see. Right?"

"I guess so," said Christine uncertainly. "Don't let anything happen to you, Beatta. Please!"

Slipping the band of the asbestos coolie-hat under her chin, Beatta lay flat on her stomach at the entrance to the tunnel; slowly eased herself forward, gripping the cable. Then she swung herself into the tube, and slipped rapidly out of sight.

Christine flipped on the phone speaker. "Are you all right?" she asked anxiously.

There was no answer but labored breathing for a few moments, then a sudden soft thud.

"I made it all right, Christine," Beatta's voice said. "I'm standing on the borer now. I'm going to lean against the wall of the tunnel and try to kick the back of the borer around. I'm ready, Christine. Turn the power!"

With a determined motion, Christine spun a dial attached to the base of the winch. "Power is on!" she called.

There was a sound of muffled struggle from below. "I'm—moving it," Beatta's voice came through, between gasps. "It's a little bit hard. I—ugh!-I haven't got anything solid to—to push against. I keep slipping on the ice."

"Better save your breath," Christine interjected. "I can hear you moving around all right."

There was a long period of silence then, while Christine strained her ears for every sound. Then:

"I've got it going almost straight to one side," Beatta panted. "But I have to keep pushing it along, or else it tries to go straight down. It's a pretty tough job." Abruptly she was silent again, while slithering, rasping sounds came through the diaphragm.

"Beatta!" Christine said tautly. "Maybe you'd better come up. We'll get one of the men to help us, somehow. Maybe we can sink another shaft right over the place you're aiming for. But this is too hard, Beatta. Come up!"

She waited for an answer. There was none. She listened more intently, her brow deeply furrowed.

There were no more sounds of movement from below.

"Beatta! Beatta! Can you hear me? Please, Beatta, answer me!" Abruptly she ceased calling. That was worse than useless.

Indecision and stark fear for Beatta were in her face. Should she pull the borer up on the winch? Without having consciously decided on that course, she put her hand on the control,—

And saw that all the meters read at zero,

No power was flowing through the winch. The radio-beam, dependent on the emergency batteries, was dead; the batteries had given out.

There no longer was any doubt in Christine's face. She knew precisely what she had to do.

Just as had Beatta, she lay on her stomach and wriggled into the tunnel.


Behind the controls of the little scouting plane, Kye's face was grim. The borer he was looking for was two miles—say, three—from the camp. The plane's cruising speed was two hundred miles an hour. Three two-hundredths of an hour was fifty-four seconds.

And he had been flying for nearly twenty minutes.

The trouble was the utter impossibility of recognizing landmarks in the dim starlight, which was all he had to go by. The plane went too fast to make ground objects more definite than shadows. He reversed the plane in a wide arc; sped back to the camp again, and started over. At the expiration of precisely forty seconds he stopped the propeller and switched on the heliscrews. Hanging on their vertical thrust, he was able to use the forward movement of the plane to whatever degree he desired.

And yet the borer was as evasive as ever.

Just as he was making up his mind to go back to the camp, leave the plane and look for it on foot,—he saw it, a gleam of metal just below him.

The whine of the vertical screws lowered in pitch as he cut their speed. Slowly the plane dropped; Kye saw a more or less level spot about a hundred yards from the jumble of metal that was his objective, and dropped the plane onto it. He cut the switch and scrambled out, racing to the machinery.

The borer wasn't on the surface, he saw with a sinking feeling. It was, in fact, very far down. Every last inch of cable attached to the winch had been paid out. That should be a thousand feet, he realized.

But where was Beatta? Had she been here?

There simply was no way of telling.

Holding to the cable for support, he peered into the ice-tunnel. The borer was out of sight,—of course. He had thought he might see a light from a handflash there below. But there was nothing.

Was it his imagination? Or was there a faint, thin fog of vapor rising from the tunnel?

The cable, he suddenly saw, was taut. It had been paid out as far as it would go, and there was dead weight swinging on the end of it.

The Bubble!

It was horribly clear to him now. Beatta, and possibly Christine with her, had followed the borer down. It had retraced its previous route—but this time gone all the way! It had broken through the last thin crust of ice and fallen into the deep Antarctic Ocean, wisps of fog from which were rising to the surface.

And Beatta? . . .

Kye flipped over the winch-control. Though it was dead now, if the power should come on while he was down there, he might have warning enough to grab the borer as it was drawn to the surface.

And even if he didn't—if Beatta were down there, Kye would find a way to bring her back to the surface. If not, if he found that she had been drowned, he himself would never return.

As had the two before him, he swung himself easily into the tunnel.


His feet kicking wildly against the slick icy walls on the tunnel, Kye swung himself painfully on down, down. He had long ago lost count of the distance he had descended; all he could know now was the recurrent agony in his torn hands; the stubborn weariness of his muscles. There was no way to stop and rest. If he relaxed his grip for even a second, he would fall. And he could not know how far such a drop might be.

Hand over hand, hand over hand. After what was long hours to Kye, there came a time when a separate effort of will for each muscle in his hands and arms was required to make them obey. Though he couldn't see, and his hands were too numb to feel, he could tell by the warm drops that trickled down his arm that his hands were fiercely cut and bleeding. Beatta and Christine had been equipped for the descent; they had had tough, thick gloves, and lights. Kye's gloves were paper-thin, and he had no light.

In the end, it was Kye's inability to see that caused him the most trouble. For his swinging toe caught in a little niche in the wall of ice: frantic for rest, he wedged his foot into it and leaned back across the tunnel, bracing his back against the opposite wall. His tortured hands he pressed to his mouth; he began to feel the pain, now.

But Kye's body temperature was of the order of more than a hundred degrees. Ice could not long resist that; his foothold melted a little and he slipped; clutched for the cable—and missed.

The drop was not great; thirty feet at most. And what he struck seemed to give under him; he found himself sliding down the slanting tunnel the borer had made just before it was stopped the first time.

And then he plunged into water, frightfully cold even to him. He went down ten feet or more, came struggling to the surface.

Water. Beatta was drowned!

His despondency closed in on him again like a thick black shroud. There was no object in life; only the commands of his subconscious made him continue to flail the water.

And then the light returned to the world. He was swimming in fresh water. He tasted it again; it was—not salt, not the ocean.

His reason told him that Beatta could drown in fresh water as easily as salt, but he disregarded it. His theory was wrong; the borer hadn't broken through. Therefore all of his theory must be wrong, and Beatta still alive.

But where was the borer?

He fumbled for the cable. It wasn't there.

There was one inescapable conclusion, and it brought joy to his heart. They had made a side tunnel, somewhere up above. They were there now, waiting for him to rescue them.

He had to get to them.

Disregarding the pain of his hands, he pressed one of them against the side of the sloped tunnel, as far above him as he could reach. The ice melted a little, enough to give him a fingerhold. He drew himself up, stabbed the other hand against the ice a little higher, kicked his feet into the ice too. Over and over he repeated the agonizingly slow process, gaining a few inches each time, going as fast as he could to avoid melting the niches away under him and slipping all the way down.

A foot, ten feet, fifty feet he gained that way, when suddenly he felt the light swing of the cable strike his head, and simultaneously a strong draft of air blew on his back. He clutched the cable, swung himself around,—and saw, less than a hundred yards away, down a horizontal ice-tunnel, the faint gleam of a handlamp!


Progress through that passage was child's-play, though he could not walk erect. Curiously, the light was not constant; it was as though someone were walking about in front of it. He shouted at the light: "Beatta! Christine! Beatta! I'm here!"

There was a cry from ahead; Beatta's voice. If Kye had been crawling rapidly before, that pace was slow compared to what he produced when he heard the cry.

"Kye! Oh, my darling—I was sure you'd come!" Welcomings were short. There was no real need for words.

Abruptly Kye realized that Beatta was alone. He said: "Isn't Christine Arbrudsen with you?"

Beatta was suddenly quiet, though she hugged Kye as fiercely as ever. "I think—I think Christine is dead, Kye," she whispered. "I'd forgotten—Kye, we must be quiet. There's something awful here. Look!" And she moved aside to let Kye see beyond the light.

At first he could see nothing. Then he realized that there was a vast cavern before them, hundreds of feet high and wide. And in it—

There was a shape that he couldn't quite define. He strained his eyes; it seemed to be faintly phosphorescent. It looked like some sort of a statue, or an animal.

But it was alive! He saw it stir, saw what was now visibly the head of a living creature move, and a great, luminous eye blink open. Red it was, and brilliant as a cat's eye is brilliant. It stared at Kye, without passion, and he felt that overwhelming torpor creep back into his brain. And a horrid feeling of pain came with it; soul-killing pain that made him forget the physical hurt from his hands. Then, abruptly, the eye closed again.

"What is it?" gasped Kye.

Beatta shuddered. "I don't know, but Christine went down to investigate it—hours ago, Kye—and she hasn't come back. I'm afraid!"


There was a quick, jerking movement of the cable. With one accord, they scrambled to the ledge, looked down. Christine Arbrudsen was climbing the cable!

Kye reached down, helped her up into the runnel. She appeared to have gone through a terrific ordeal. Her clothing was disarranged; her face was a mask of strained lines. There was hysteria in her voice as she spoke.

"Kye! Thank God you're here!" she gasped as soon as she saw him. She clung to him for support as they sat in the tunnel; there was no strength in her. She began to chuckle to herself, but without humor. In the light of the fading hand torch they could see tears streaming down her face even as she laughed.

"Christine! What's the matter?" whispered Beatta.

The girl threw back her head and screamed laughter. "The matter? Nothing! I'm alive again!" She abandoned herself to her hysteria, rocking back and forth in spasms of throat-tearing laughter. Kye grasped her shoulder roughly, shaking her; slapped her face.

"Christine," he said intensely. "Tell me what you mean!"

Abruptly she sobered. Her voice was quiet, with overtones of immense awe as she answered. "Kye, I have been dead. That monstrous, terrible, frightening thing out there—it killed me and brought me to life again!"

"Why? Christine, why?" Horror was in Beatta's whisper.

"I don't know! Because it's dying, and can't move, and it's in frightful agony. I diverted it for a while—that was all! Oh, Beatta, it's awful to be dead! You can see things and hear them, but you can't move or speak. I tried to answer you, Beatta, when you were calling me—but I couldn't! I was dead!" Her voice trailed off in a whimper.

Hysteria, only hysteria, Kye's rational mind was telling him over and over again. You can't die and then come to life again. The girl was hysterical. You can't die and. . . .

But Kye couldn't believe his rational mind, for his rational mind had no explanation for the creature out there in the cavern.

"What is that thing?" he asked. "How did it come here?"

The question seemed to restore Christine to normalcy. "It came from the comet. It lived there, Kye, and when the comet broke up in Earth's gravitational field, it was on a section that was drawn to the Earth. It is an incredible creature. It fell, Kye, fell all the way to the surface of the Earth. And it's still alive—though it is dying. It told me that. It read my mind, and it spoke to me. And it made me a promise, too. A promise—that it would kill itself! Because it's a highly rational creature, and it found in my mind that it was interfering with us. It's going to die soon, anyhow,—it just won't fight death off any more."

"That explains the apathy of the camp," said Kye slowly, trying to comprehend an immense thing. "This vast mind, right by us, in horrible pain, dying. And worst of all—cut off from its home—because its home is eternally gone, part of the flaming gases of the sun!"

"But why didn't Christine or I get that feeling?" Beatta asked.

"I don't know," Kye said helplessly. "I can't understand any of this—I don't think any human being can, really. But I have an idea . . . which is probably wrong. But it might do till we find a better explanation. This—emotion that that creature has been spreading is a longing for the homeland. That's a basic feeling of every human being. But—women are not as subject to it as men. A woman is trained to cling to a man; a man, to support his country. And. . . ."

Kye never finished that speech. There was a sudden bright sweep of motion in the cavern, as though some shining thing had swooped, comet-like, up and away, through the walls of ice. In the same moment, the dull phosphorescence of the figure paled away; the huge red eye opened as the figure stirred in soundless agony, then dimmed to extinction.

It had kept its promise. Obviously it was dead.

But a few seconds later, before the three awed witnesses had dared to break the spell with words, there came a sudden new motion in the cable; a quick jerk, then a steady rise.

The power was on!

Silently, still gripped by the drama of the strange creature's death, the three forced their rebellious limbs to clutch the cable, and slowly were drawn to the surface, where was waiting a settlement, bright with returned power, and brighter with the lifting of the dismal cloud of despair.





Milt Rothman was not my only client as agent-cum-collaborator. Milt needed me badly, of course, because his home was too remote and out of touch for him to deal with the New York editors. (He lived in Philadelphia.) But there were others. I trotted the rounds of Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories, Weird Tales et al., offering my wares. Real agents don't usually do this, I found out later. They either employ messengers or use the mails. I couldn't afford either. Two-way postage on a story was as much as thirty cents or thereabouts. Subway fare to the editor's office was only a nickel. Sometimes I saved the nickel and walked. All this took a lot of time, but I had the time. As soon as I was legally old enough I had quit high school, having concluded there was nothing I was learning in the classrooms that interested me as much as what I was learning outside. All this running around to editorial offices didn't earn me much in the way of cash, but it taught me that editors were, after all, human beings. Not only that, most of them didn't seem to know any more about science fiction than I did.

Moreover, I reasoned, the trickiest part of getting a story published was finding an editor who would accept it. If you were an editor, that problem disappeared.

So I cast about for a likely editorial job. The editor of Marvel and Dynamic was a likable man named Robert O. Erisman, and one day I asked him for a job as his assistant. No, thanks, he said, but why didn't I go across town to 205 East 42 Street, where Popular Publications had its offices? They were already one of the largest of the pulp chains, and he had heard they were thinking of expanding.

So I took the crosstown trolley and called on Rogers Terrill, managing editor of the chain. He hired me. It was as simple as that.

. . . Well, not really as simple as that. When I got the job so easily I took it as a natural tribute to my talent. It was only a lot later that I realized they would have hired Mothra or Og, Son of Fire, just about as readily right then, because they were very interested in expanding.

Popular Publications was run by a man named Harry Steeger, an intimidatingly polished Princeton sort of person who skied and owned a yacht and entertained callers who conducted long phone conversations in idiomatic French. He had some fancy Princeton ideas. One of them was that he should pay writers a decent rate—a penny a word, sometimes even more.

That may not seem like much now. The reason for that is that it wasn't really much even then. But all the same it was more than some other pulp publishers were paying. Steeger was under pressure from the other people involved in his empire to cut his costs by lowering his word rate.

He didn't like to do this. What he did do was start a mythical other publishing company—it was called Fictioneers, Inc.—which would bring out a whole new line of pulps at a base word rate of half a cent. 205 East 42 happened to be the address of a building that went clear through the block and came out the other side. 210 East 43 was the address of the other entrance, and that became the official address of Fictioneers. The switchboard girl, Ethel Klock (dear, lovely lady who couldn't bowl for sour apples but kept us all company every Friday lunch hour at the alleys), was given a new telephone line, and was instructed under pain of death not to put through any calls to anybody connected with Popular Publications in the Fictioneers number. Well, that drove them all crazy. They tried. But it was tacky to call up an agent as Loren Dowst, editor of Fighting Aces, and buy some stories for Popular Publications at a penny a word, hang up and then call back a minute later as Ray P. Shotwell, editor of Battle Birds, and in a quavering assumed falsetto attempt to buy half-price stories for Fictioneers.

What Fictioneers obviously needed was at least one or two real, flesh-and-blood, actual people to be editors; and I happened to hit the place at the right time.

So there I was, nineteen years old from head to feet, and editor of two professional magazines. I had my name on the masthead. I was listed in the writers' market magazines.

To be sure, Popular didn't pay me very much. It was $10 a week for the first six months or so. That wasn't so bad. They hired another editor at the same time, and he had to work three months for nothing before they raised him to $10 a week.

The art director was a wonderful man named Alex Portegal, who doubled as a lending agency. You could get five dollars from Alex any time, provided that on payday you gave him back six.* And we needed it. Without Alex, I don't think any of us would have made it through the month, not even the senior editors who were making as much as $35.

We weren't really expected to live on that kind of money. What we were expected to do was write stories and buy them from ourselves, and somehow piece together enough to survive.

I did so. The King's Eye, from the February 1941 issue of Astonishing Stories, is one of them. At 5,900 words, at my premium rate of 3/4^f a word, it came to $43.50 that it fetched me . . . equal to a month's editorial pay, just about.



* It spoils the story, but is true, that at the end of each year Alex took the spoils of his usury, bought drinks for all his clients and gave the rest to charity.



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