The Complete Stories (Page 212)

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That was just talk, really. I have a million things to do around the Farm, and one thing 1 just can’t waste my time on is mail. That’s why I have Mrs. Hester around. She lives pretty close by, she’s good at attending to foolishness without running to me about it, and most of all, she likes Sally and the rest. Some people don’t.

"Glad to see you, Mr. Gellhorn," I said.

"Raymond f. Gellhorn," he said, and gave me his hand, which I shook and gave back.

He was a largish fellow, half a head taller than I and wider, too. He was about half my age, thirtyish. He had black hair, plastered down slick, with a part in the middle, and a thin mustache, very neatly trimmed. His jawbones got big under his ears and made him look as if he had a slight case of mumps. On video he’d be a natural to play the villain, so I assumed he was a nice fellow. It goes to show that video can’t be wrong all the time.

"I’m Jacob Folkers," I said. "What can I do for you?"

He grinned. It was a big, wide, white-toothed grin. "You can tell me a little about your Farm here, if you don’t mind."

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I heard Sally coming up behind me and I put out my hand. She slid right into it and the feel of the hard, glossy enamel of her fender was warm in my palm.

"A nice automatobile," said Gellhorn.

That’s one way of putting it. Sally was a 2045 convertible with a Hennis-Carleton positronic motor and an Armat chassis. She had the cleanest, finest lines I’ve ever seen on any model, bar none. For five years, she’d been my favorite, and I’d put everything into her I could dream up. In all that time, there’d never been a human being behind her wheel.

Not once.

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"Sally," I said, patting her gently, "meet Mr. Gellhorn."

Sally’s cylinder-purr keyed up a little. I listened carefully for any knocking. Lately, I’d been hearing motor-knock in almost all the cars and changing the gasoline hadn’t done a bit of good. Sally was as smooth as her paint job this time, however.

"Do you have names for all your cars?" asked Gellhorn.

He sounded amused, and Mrs. Hester doesn’t like people to sound as though they were making fun of the Farm. She said, sharply, "Certainly. The cars have real personalities, don’t they, Jake? The seda"ns are all males and the convertibles are females."

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Gellhorn was smiling again. "And do you keep them in separate garages, ma’am?"

Mrs. Hester glared at him.

Gellhorn said to me, "And now I wonder if I can talk to you alone, Mr. Folkers?"

"That depends," I said. "Are you a reporter?"

"No, sir. I’m a sales agent. Any talk we have is not for publication. I assure you I am interested in strict privacy."

"Let’s walk down the road a bit. There’s a bench we can use."

We started down. Mrs. Hester walked away. Sally nudged along after us.

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I said, "You don’t mind if Sally comes along, do you?"

"Not at all. She can’t repeat what we say, can she?" He laughed at his own joke, reached over and rubbed Sally’s grille. I: Sally raced her motor and Gellhorn’s hand drew away quickly, a -/’She’s not used to strangers," I explained.

" We sat down on the bench under the big oak tree where we could look across the small lake to the private speedway. It was the warm part of the day and the cars were out in force, at least thirty of them. Even at this distance I could see that Jeremiah was pulling his usual stunt of sneaking up

behind some staid older model, then putting on a jerk of speed and yowling past with deliberately squealing brakes. Two weeks before he had crowded old Angus off the asphalt altogether, and I had turned off his motor for two days.

It didn’t help though, I’m afraid, and it looks as though there’s nothing to be done about it. Jeremiah is a sports model to begin with and that kind is awfully hot-headed.

"Well, Mr. Gellhorn," I said. "Could you tell me why you want the information?"

But he was just looking around. He said, "This is an amazing place, Mr. Folkers."

"I wish you’d call me Jake. Everyone does."

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"All right, Jake. How many cars do you have here?"

"Fifty-one. We get one or two new ones every year. One year we got five. We haven’t lost one yet. They’re all in perfect running order. We even have a ’15 model Mat-O-Mot in working order. One of the original automatics. It was the first car here."

Good old Matthew. He stayed in the garage most of the day now, but then he was the granddaddy of all positronic-motored cars. Those were the days when blind war veterans, paraplegics and heads of state were the only ones who drove automatics. But Samson Harridge was my boss and he was rich enough to be able to get one. I was his chauffeur at the time.

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The thought makes me feel old. I can remember when there wasn’t an automobile in the world with brains enough to find its own way home. I chauffeured dead lumps of machines that needed a man’s hand at their controls every minute. Every year machines like that used to kill tens of thousands of people.

The automatics fixed that. A positronic brain can react much faster than a human one, of course, and it paid people to keep hands off the controls. You got in, punched your destination and let it go its own way.

We take it for granted now, but I remember when the first laws came out forcing the old machines off the highways and limiting travel to automatics. Lord, what a fuss. They called it everything from communism to fascism, but it emptied the highways and stopped the killing, and still more people get around more easily the new way.

Of course, the automatics were ten to a hundred times as expensive as the hand-driven ones, and there weren’t many that could afford a private vehicle. The industry specialized in turning out omni-bus-automatics. You could always call a company and have one stop at your door in a matter of minutes and take you where you wanted to go. Usually, you had to drive with others who were going your way, but what’s wrong with that?

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