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R. A. Lafferty

“By 1990, we will have television.” SF has always been fond of statements like that. Most of them have been wrong—hardly anyone foresaw the incredible- acceleration of our society, the cultural/technological/psychological explosion that wrenched us from Kitty Hawk to Copernicus in seventy years, that gave us credit cards and pollution and LSD, that shoved us into the mass nervous breakdown of the late sixties. As a result, only those stories that were the most radical and farfetched in their conception of life in 1970 bear even a conservative correlation to reality. Satire ages best—I’m sure to the horror of the satirists, who must watch their created absurdities and distortions creeping into the headlines and becoming mundane. Listen to a TV commercial, watch an X-rated movie, look out the window (remember windows?), step outside and discover that you can’t breathe the air. Notice how much your morning newspaper resembles The Marching Morons? Catch-22 is one of the most realistic war novels ever written. Ask any private who’s ever been caught in the gears.

One thing we can be fairly sure of: if we don’t blow up the world or strangle in our own excreta, the future will be more complex and strange than we suppose, maybe more strange than we can even imagine. R. A. Lafferty—a man possessed of one of the most daring, flexible and incisive imaginations in the world—here blips us through a slow Tuesday night with the speed of a computer data transfer. Read it and laugh, because it is very funny, and at the moment it is satire. If you’re still around forty years from now, do the existing societal equivalent of reading it again, and you may find yourself laughing out of the other side of your mouth (remember mouths?). It will probably be much too conservative.


A panhandler intercepted the young couple as they strolled down the night street.

“Preserve us this night,” he said as he touched his hat to them, “and could you good people advance me a thousand dollars to be about the recouping of my fortunes?”

“I gave you a thousand last Friday,” said the young man.

“Indeed you did,” the panhandler replied, “and I paid you back tenfold by messenger before midnight.”

“That’s right, George, he did,” said the young woman. “Give it to him, dear. I believe he’s a good sort.”

So the young man gave the panhandler a thousand dollars, and the panhandler touched his hat to them in thanks and went on to the recouping of his fortunes.

As he went into Money Market, the panhandler passed Ildefonsa Impala, the most beautiful woman in the city.

“Will you marry me this night, Ildy?” he asked cheerfully.

“Oh, I don’t believe so, Basil,” she said. “I marry you pretty often, but tonight I don’t seem to have any plans at all. You may make me a gift on your first or second, however. I always like that.”

But when they had parted she asked herself: “But whom will I marry tonight?”

The panhandler was Basil Bagelbaker, who would be the richest man in the world within an hour and a half. He would make and lose four fortunes within eight hours; and these not the little fortunes that ordinary men acquire, but titanic things.

When the Abebaios block had been removed from human minds, people began to make decisions faster, and often better. It had been the mental stutter. When it was understood what it was, and that it had no useful function, it was removed by simple childhood metasurgery.

Transportation and manufacturing had then become practically instantaneous. Things that had once taken months and years now took only minutes and hours. A person could have one or several pretty intricate careers within an eight-hour period.

Freddy Fixico had just invented a manus module. Freddy was a Nyctalops, and the modules were characteristic of these people. The people had then divided themselves—according to their natures and inclinations—into the Auroreans, the Hemerobians, and the Nyctalops—or the Dawners, who had their most active hours from 4 A.M. till noon; the Day Flies, who obtained from noon to 8 P.M.; and the Night Seers, whose civilization thrived from 8 P.M. to 4 A.M. The cultures, inventions, markets and activities of these three folk were a little different. As a Nyctalops, Freddy had just begun his working day at 8 P.M. on a slow Tuesday night.

Freddy rented an office and had it furnished. This took one minute, negotiation, selection and installation being almost instantaneous. Then he invented the manus module; that took another minute. He then had it manufactured and marketed; in three minutes it was in the hands of key buyers.

It caught on. It was an attractive module. The flow of orders began within thirty seconds. By ten minutes after eight every important person had one of the new manus modules, and the trend had been set. The module began to sell in the millions. It was one of the most interesting fads of the night, or at least the early part of the night.

Manus modules had no practical function, no more than had Sameki verses. They were attractive, of a psychologically satisfying size and shape, and could be held in the hands, set on a table, or installed in a module niche of any wall.

Naturally Freddy became very rich. Ildefonsa Impala, the most beautiful woman in the city, was always interested in newly rich men. She came to see Freddy about eight-thirty. People made up their minds fast, and Ildefonsa had hers made up when she came. Freddy made his own up quickly and divorced Judy Fixico in Small Claims Court. Freddy and Ildefonsa went honeymooning to Paraiso Dorado, a resort.

It was wonderful. All of Ildy’s marriages were. There was the wonderful floodlighted scenery. The recirculated water of the famous falls was tinted gold; the immediate rocks had been done by Rambles; and the hills had been contoured by Spall. The beach was a perfect copy of that at Merevale, and the popular drink that first part of the night was blue absinthe.

But scenery—whether seen for the first time or revisited after an interval—is striking for the sudden intense view of it. It is not meant to be lingered over. Food, selected and prepared instantly, is eaten with swift enjoyment; and blue absinthe lasts no longer than its own novelty. Loving, for Ildefonsa and her paramours, was quick and consuming; and repetition would have been pointless to her. Besides, Ildefonsa and Freddy had taken only the one-hour luxury honeymoon.

Freddy wished to continue the relationship, but Ildefonsa glanced at a trend indicator. The manus module would hold its popularity for only the first third of the night. Already it had been discarded by people who mattered. And Freddy Fixico was not one of the regular successes. He enjoyed a full career only about one night a week.

They were back in the city and divorced in Small Claims Court by nine thirty-five. The stock of manus modules was remaindered, and the last of it would be disposed of to bargain hunters among the Dawners, who will buy anything.

“Whom shall I marry next?” Ildefonsa asked herself. “It looks like a slow night.”

“Bagelbaker is buying,” ran the word through Money Market, but Bagelbaker was selling again before the word had made its rounds. Basil Bagelbaker enjoyed making money, and it was a pleasure to watch him work as he dominated the floor of the Market and assembled runners and a competent staff out of the corner of his mouth. Helpers stripped the panhandler rags off him and wrapped him in a tycoon toga. He sent one runner to pay back twentyfold the young couple who had advanced him a thousand dollars. He sent another with a more substantial gift to Ildefonsa Impala, for Basil cherished their relationship. Basil acquired title to the Trend Indication Complex and had certain falsifications set into it. He caused to collapse certain industrial empires that had grown up within the last two hours, and made a good thing of recombining their wreckage. He had been the richest man in the world for some minutes now. He became so money-heavy that he could not maneuver with the agility he had shown an hour before. He became a great fat buck, and the pack of expert wolves circled him to bring him down.

Very soon he would lose that first fortune of the evening. The secret of Basil Bagelbaker was that he enjoyed losing money spectacularly after he was full of it to the bursting point.

* * *

A thoughtful-man named Maxwell Mouser had just produced a work of actinic philosophy. It took him seven minutes to write it. To write works of philosophy one used the flexible outlines and the idea indexes; one set the activator for such a wordage in each subsection; an adept would use the paradox, feed-in, and the striking-analogy blender; one calibrated the particular-slant and the personality-signature. It had to come out a good work, for excellence had become the automatic minimum for such productions.

“I will scatter a few nuts on the frosting,” said Maxwell, and he pushed the lever for that. This sifted handfuls of words like chthonic and heuristic and prozymeides through the thing so that nobody could doubt it was a work of philosophy.

Maxwell Mouser sent the work out to publishers, and received it back each time in about three minutes. An analysis of it and reason for rejection were always given—mostly that the thing had been done before and better. Maxwell received it back ten times in thirty minutes, and was discouraged. Then there was a break.

Ladion’s work had become a hit within the last ten minutes, and it was now recognized that Mouser’s monograph was both an answer and a supplement to it. It was accepted and published in less than a minute after this break. The reviews of the first five minutes were cautious ones; then real enthusiasm was shown. This was truly one of the greatest works of philosophy to appear during the early and medium hours of the night. There were those who said it might be one of the enduring works and even have a holdover appeal to the Dawners the next morning.

Naturally Maxwell became very rich, and naturally Ildefonsa came to see him about midnight. Being a revolutionary philosopher, Maxwell thought that they might make some free arrangement, but Ildefonsa insisted it must be marriage. So Maxwell divorced Judy Mouser in Small Claims Court and went off with Ildefonsa.

This Judy herself, though not so beautiful as Ildefonsa, was the fastest taker in the city. She only wanted the men of the moment for a moment, and she was always there before even Ildefonsa. Ildefonsa believed that she took the men away from Judy; Judy said that Ildy had her leavings and nothing else.

“I had him first,” Judy would always mock as she raced through Small Claims Court.

“Oh that damned urchin!” Ildefonsa would moan. “She wears my very hair before I do.”

* * *

Maxwell Mouser and Ildefonsa Impala went honeymooning to Musicbox Mountain, a resort. It was wonderful. The peaks were done with green snow by Dunbar and Fittle. (Back at Money Market Basil Bagelbaker was putting together his third and greatest fortune of the night, which might surpass in magnitude even his fourth fortune of the Thursday before.) The chalets were Switzier than the real Swiss and had live goats in every room. (And Stanley Skuldugger was emerging as the top actor-imago of the middle hours of the night.) The popular drink for that middle part of the night was Glotzenglubber, ewe cheese and Rhine wine over pink ice. (And back in the city the leading Nyctalops were taking their midnight break at the Toppers’ Club.)

Of course it was wonderful, as were all of Ildefonsa’s—but she had never been really up on philosophy so she had scheduled only the special thirty-five-minute honeymoon. She looked at the trend indicator to be sure. She found that her current husband had been obsoleted, and his opus was now referred to sneeringly as Mouser’s Mouse. They went back to the city and were divorced in Small Claims Court.

The membership of the Toppers’ Club varied. Success was the requisite of membership. Basil Bagelbaker might be accepted as a member, elevated to the presidency and expelled from it as a dirty pauper from three to six times a night. But only important persons could belong to it, or those enjoying brief moments of importance.

“I believe I will sleep during the Dawner period in the morning,” Overcall said. “I may go up to this new place, Koimopolis, for an hour of it. They’re said to be good. Where will you sleep, Basil?”


“I believe I will sleep an hour by the Midian Method,” said Bumbanner. “They have a fine new clinic. And perhaps I’ll sleep an hour by the Prasenka Process, and an hour by the Dormidio.”

“Crackle has been sleeping an hour every period by the natural method,” said Overcall.

“I did that for half an hour not long since,” said Bumbanner. “I believe an hour is too long to give it. Have you tried the natural method, Basil?”

“Always. Natural method and a bottle of red-eye.”

Stanley Skuldugger had become the most meteoric actor-imago for a week. Naturally he became very rich, and Ildefonsa Impala went to see him about 3 A.M.

“I had him first!” rang the mocking voice of Judy Skuldugger as she skipped through her divorce in Small Claims Court. And Ildefonsa and Stanley boy went off honeymooning. It is always fun to finish up a period with an actor-imago who is the hottest property in the business. There is something so adolescent and boorish about them.

Besides, there was the publicity, and Ildefonsa liked that. The rumor mills ground. Would it last ten minutes? Thirty? An hour? Would it be one of those rare Nyctalops marriages that lasted through the rest of the night and into the daylight off-hours? Would it even last into the next night as some had been known to do?

Actually it lasted nearly forty minutes, which was almost to the end of the period.

It had been a slow Tuesday night. A few hundred new products had run their course on the markets. There had been a score of dramatic hits, three-minute and five-minute capsule dramas, and several of the six-minute long-play affairs. Night Street Nine—a solidly sordid offering—seemed to be in as the drama of the night unless there should be a late hit.

Hundred-story buildings had been erected, occupied, obsoleted and demolished again to make room for more contemporary structures. Only the mediocre would use a building that had been left over from the Day Flies or the Dawners, or even the Nyctalops of the night before. The city was rebuilt pretty completely at least three times during an eight-hour period.

The period drew near its end. Basil Bagelbaker, the richest man in the world, the reigning president of the Toppers’ Club, was enjoying himself with his cronies. His fourth fortune of the night was a paper pyramid that had risen to incredible heights; but Basil laughed to himself as he savored the manipulation it was founded on.

Three ushers of the Toppers’ Club came in with firm step.

“Get out of here, you dirty bum!” they told Basil savagely. They tore the tycoon’s toga off him and then tossed him his seedy panhandler’s rags with a three-man sneer.

“All gone?” Basil asked. “I gave it another five minutes.”

“All gone,” said a messenger from Money Market. “Nine billion gone in five minutes, and it really pulled some others down with it.”

“Pitch the busted bum out!” howled Overcall and Bumbanner and the other cronies.

“Wait, Basil,” said Overcall. “Turn in the President’s Crosier before we kick you downstairs. After all, you’ll have it several times again tomorrow night.”

The period was over. The Nyctalops drifted off to sleep clinics or leisure-hour hideouts to pass their ebb time. The Auroreans, the Dawners, took over the vital stuff.

Now you would see some action! Those Dawners really made fast decisions. You wouldn’t catch them wasting a full minute setting up a business.

A sleepy panhandler met Ildefonsa Impala on the way. “Preserve us this morning, Ildy,” he said, “and will you marry me the coming night?”

“Likely I will, Basil,” she told him. “Did you marry Judy during the night past?”

“I’m not sure. Could you let me have two dollars, Ildy?”

“Out of the question. I believe a Judy Bagelbaker was named one of the ten best-dressed women during the frou-frou fashion period about two o’clock. Why do you need two dollars?”

“A dollar for a bed and a dollar for red-eye. After all, I sent you two million out of my second.”

“I keep my two sorts of accounts separate. Here’s a dollar, Basil. Now be off! I can’t be seen talking to a dirty panhandler.”

“Thank you, Ildy. I’ll get the red-eye and sleep in an alley. Preserve us this morning.”

Bagelbaker shuffled off whistling “Slow Tuesday Night.” And already the Dawners had set Wednesday morning to jumping.

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