The Complete Stories (Page 61)

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"Sometimes," said Tommy trebly.

Mr. Slutsky cleared his throat. He was broad-shouldered and thick-fingered, the type of laboring man who, every once in a while, to the confusion of eugenics, sired a dreamer. "We rented one or two for the boy. Real old ones."

Weill nodded. He said, "Did you like them, Tommy?"

"They were sort of silly."

"You think up better ones for yourself, do you?"

The grin that spread over the ten-year-old face had the effect of taking away some of the unreality of the slicked hair and washed face.

Weill went on gently, "Would you like to make up a dream for me?"

Tommy was instantly embarrassed. "I guess not."

"It won’t be hard. It’s very easy. . . . Joe."

Dooley moved a screen out of the way and rolled forward a dream recorder.

The youngster looked owlishly at it.

Weill lifted the helmet and brought it close to the boy. "Do you know what this is?"

Tommy shrank away. "No."

"It’s a thinker. That’s what we call it because people think into it. You put it on your head and think anything you want."

"Then what happens?"

"Nothing at all. It feels nice."

"No," said Tommy, "I guess I’d rather not."

His mother bent hurriedly toward him. "It won’t hurt, Tommy. You do what the man says." There was an unmistakable edge to her voice.

Tommy stiffened, and looked as though he might cry but he didn’t. Weill put the thinker on him.

He did it gently and slowly and let it remain there for some thirty seconds before speaking again, to let the boy assure himself it would do no harm, to let him get used to the insinuating touch of the fibrils against the sutures of his skull (penetrating the skin so finely as to be insensible almost), and finally to let him get used to the faint hum of the alternating field vortices.

Then he said, "Now would you think for us?"

"About what?" Only the boy’s nose and mouth showed.

"About anything you want. What’s the best thing you would like to do when school is out?"

The boy thought a moment and said, with rising inflection, "Go on a stratojet?"

"Why not? Sure thing. You go on a jet. It’s taking off right now." He gestured lightly to Dooley, who threw the freezer into circuit.

Weill kept the boy only five minutes and then let him and his mother be escorted from the office by Dooley. Tommy looked bewildered but undamaged by the ordeal.

Weill said to the father, "Now, Mr. Slutsky, if your boy does well on this test, we’ll be glad to pay you five hundred dollars each year until he finishes high school. In that time, all we’ll ask is that he spend an hour a week some afternoon at our special school."

"Do I have to sign a paper?" Slutsky’s voice was a bit hoarse.

"Certainly. This is business, Mr. Slutsky."

"Well, I don’t know. Dreamers are hard to come by, I hear."

"They are. They are. But your son, Mr. Slutsky, is not a dreamer yet. He might never be. Five hundred dollars a year is a gamble for us. It’s not a gamble for you. When he’s finished high school, it may turn out he’s not a dreamer, yet you’ve lost nothing. You’ve gained maybe four thousand dollars altogether. If he is a dreamer, he’ll make a nice living and you certainly haven’t lost then."

"He’ll need special training, won’t he?"

"Oh, yes, most intensive. But we don’t have to worry about that till after he’s finished high school. Then, after two years with us, he’ll be developed. Rely on me, Mr. Slutsky."

"Will you guarantee that special training?"

Weill, who had been shoving a paper across the desk at Slutsky, and punching a pen wrong-end-to at him, put the pen down and chuckled. "A guarantee? No. How can we when we don’t know for sure yet if he’s a real talent? Still, the five hundred a year will stay yours."

Slutsky pondered and shook his head. "I tell you straight out, Mr. Weill . . . After your man arranged to have us come here, I called Luster-Think. They said they’ll guarantee training."

Weill sighed. "Mr. Slutsky, I don’t like to talk against a competitor. If they say they’ll guarantee schooling, they’ll do as they say, but they can’t make a boy a dreamer if he hasn’t got it in him, schooling or not. If they

t^ke a plain boy without the proper talent and put him through a development course, they’ll ruin him. A dreamer he won’t be, I guarantee you. And a normal human being, he won’t be, either. Don’t take the chance of doing it: to your son.

"Now Dreams, Inc., will be perfectly honest with you. If he can be a dreamer, we’ll make him one. If not, we’ll give him back to you without having tampered with him and say, ‘Let him learn a trade.’ He’ll be better aind healthier that way. I tell you, Mr. Slutsky-I have sons and daughters aind grandchildren so I know what I say-I would not allow a child of mine to be pushed into dreaming if he’s not ready for it. Not for a million dlollars."

Slutsky wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and reached for the Pen. "What does this say?"

"This is just an option. We pay you a hundred dollars in cash right now. No strings attached. We study the boy’s reverie. If we feel it’s worth follow-iing up, we’ll call you in again and make the five-hundred-dollar-a-year deaj. Leave yourself in my hands, Mr. Slutsky, and don’t worry. You won’t be S’orry."

Slutsky signed.

Weill passed the document through the file slot and handed an envelope t’o Slutsky.

Five minutes later, alone in the office, he placed the unfreezer over his Qwn head and absorbed the boy’s reverie intently. It was a typically childish (Saydream. First Person was at the controls of the plane, which looked like a Compound of illustrations out of the filmed thrillers that still circulated among those who lacked the time, desire or money for dream cylinders.

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