The Complete Stories (Page 22)
"You’re just being childish," said Sarah.
"I’m being sensible. I tell you, Sarah, I won’t accept. They can’t make me vote if I don’t want to. I’ll say I’m sick. I’ll say-"
But Sarah had had enough. "Now you listen to me," she whispered in a cold fury. "You don’t have only yourself to think about. You know what it means to be Voter of the Year. A presidential year at that. It means publicity and fame and, maybe, buckets of money-"
"And then I go back to being a clerk."
"You will not. You’ll have a branch managership at the least if you have any brains at all, and you will have, because I’ll tell you what to do. You control the kind of publicity if you play your cards right, and you can force Kennel! Stores, Inc., into a tight contract and an escalator clause in connection with your salary and a decent pension plan."
"That’s not the point in being Voter, Sarah."
"That will be your point. If you don’t owe anything to yourself or to me -I’m not asking for myself-you owe something to Linda." Norman groaned. "Well, don’t you?" snapped Sarah. "Yes, dear," murmured Norman.
On November 3, the official announcement was made and it was too late for Norman to back out even if he had been able to find the courage to make the attempt.
Their house was sealed off. Secret service agents made their appearance in the open, blocking off all approach.
At first the telephone rang incessantly, but Philip Handley with an engagingly apologetic smile took all calls. Eventually, the exchange shunted all calls directly to the police station.
Norman imagined that, in that way, he was spared not only the bubbling (and envious?) congratulations of friends, but also the egregious pressure of salesmen scenting a prospect and the designing smoothness of politicians from all over the nation. . . . Perhaps even death threats from the inevitable cranks.
Newspapers were forbidden to enter the house now in order to keep out weighted pressures, and television was gently but firmly disconnected, over Linda’s loud protests.
Matthew growled and stayed in his room; Linda, after the first flurry of excitement, sulked and whined because she could not leave the house; Sarah divided her time between preparation of meals for the present and plans for the future; and Norman’s depression lived and fed upon itself.
And the morning of Tuesday, November 4, 2008, came at last, and it was . Election Day.
" It was early breakfast, but only Norman Muller ate, and that mechani-, calry. Even a shower and shave had not succeeded in either restoring him to , reality or removing his own conviction that he was as grimy without as he felt grimy within.
Handley’s friendly voice did its best to shed some normality over the gray and unfriendly dawn. (The weather prediction had been for a cloudy day with prospects of rain before noon.)
Handley said, "We’ll keep this house insulated till Mr. Muller is back, but after that we’ll be off your necks." The secret service agent was in full uniform now, including sidearms in heavily brassed holsters.
"You’ve been no trouble at all, Mr. Handley," simpered Sarah.
Norman drank through two cups of black coffee, wiped his lips with a napkin, stood up and said haggardly, "I’m ready."
Handley stood up, too. "Very well, sir. And thank you, Mrs. Muller, for your very kind hospitality."
The armored car purred down empty streets. They were empty even for that hour of the morning.
Handley indicated that and said, "They always shift traffic away from the line of drive ever since the attempted bombing that nearly ruined the Lever-ett Election of ’92."
When the car stopped, Norman was helped out by the always polite Handley into an underground drive whose walls were lined with soldiers at attention.
He was led into a brightly lit room, in which three white-uniformed men greeted him smilingly.
Norman said sharply, "But this is the hospital."
"There’s no significance to that," said Handley at once. "It’s just that the hospital has the necessary facilities."
"Well, what do I do?"
Handley nodded. One of the three men in white advanced and said, "I’ll take over now, agent."
Handley saluted in an offhand manner and left the room.
The man in white said, "Won’t you sit down, Mr. Mulkr? I’m John Paulson, Senior Computer. These are Samson Levine and Peter Dorogobuzh, my assistants."
Norman shook hands numbly all about. Paulson was a man of middle height with a soft face that seemed used to smiling and a very obvious toupee. He wore plastic-rimmed glasses of an old-fashioned cut, and he lit a cigarette as he talked. (Norman refused his offer of one.)
Paulson said, "In the first place, Mr. Muller, I want you to know we are in no hurry. We want you to stay with us all day if necessary, just so that you get used to your surroundings and get over any thought you might have that there is anything unusual in this, anything clinical, if you know what I mean."
"It’s all right," said Norman. "I’d just as soon this were over."
"I understand your feelings. Still, we want you to know exactly what’s going on. In the first place, Multivac isn’t here."
"It isn’t?" Somehow through all his depression, he had still looked forward to seeing Multivac. They said it was half a mile long and three stories high, that fifty technicians walked the corridors within its structure continuously. It was one of the wonders of the world.
Paulson smiled. "No. It’s not portable, you know. It’s located underground, in fact, and very few people know exactly where. You can understand that, since it is our greatest natural resource. Believe me, elections aren’t the only things it’s used for."