The Complete Stories (Page 68)
"But you get crowded out, Stubby. You can be way back in line. Any world can tape out its own Metallurgists, and the market for advanced Earth models isn’t so big. And it’s mostly the small worlds that want them. You know what percent of the turnout of Registered Metallurgists get tabbed for worlds with a Grade A rating. I looked it up. It’s just 13.3 percent. That means you’ll have seven chances in eight of being stuck in some world that
just about has running water. You may even be stuck on Earth; 2.3 percent are."
Trevelyan said beffigerently, "There’s no disgrace in staying on Earth. Earth needs technicians, too. Good ones." His grandfather had been an Earth-bound Metallurgist, and Trevelyan lifted his finger to his upper lip and dabbed at an as yet nonexistent mustache.
George knew about Trevelyan’s grandfather and, considering the Earthbound position of his own ancestry, was in no mood to sneer. He said diplomatically, "No intellectual disgrace. Of course not. But it’s nice to get into a Grade A world, isn’t it?
"Now you take Programmers. Only the Grade A worlds have the kind of computers that really need first-class Programmers so they’re the only ones in the market. And Programmer tapes are complicated and hardly any one fits. They need more Programmers than their own population can supply. It’s just a matter of statistics. There’s one first-class Programmer per million, say. A world needs twenty and has a population often million, they have to come to Earth for five to fifteen Programmers. Right?
"And you know how many Registered Computer Programmers went to Grade A planets last year? I’ll tell you. Every last one. If you’re a Programmer, you’re a picked man. Yes, sir."
Trevelyan frowned. "If only one in a million makes it, what makes you think you’ll make it?"
George said guardedly, "I’ll make it."
He never dared tell anyone; not Trevelyan; not his parents; of exactly what he was doing that made him so confident. But he wasn’t worried. He was simply confident (that was the worst of the memories he had in the hopeless days afterward). He was as blandly confident as the average eight-year-old kid approaching Reading Day-that childhood preview of Education Day.
Of course, Reading Day had been different. Partly, there was the simple fact of childhood. A boy of eight takes many extraordinary things in stride. One day you can’t read and the next day you can. That’s just the way things are. Like the sun shining.
And then not so much depended upon it. There were no recruiters just ahead, waiting and jostling for the lists and scores on the coming Olympics. A boy or girl who goes through the Reading Day is just someone who has ten more years of undifferentiated living upon Earth’s crawling surface; just someone who returns to his family with one new ability.
By the time Education Day caine, ten years later, George wasn’t even sure of most of the details of his own Reading Day.
Most clearly of all, he remembered it to be a dismal September day with a mild rain falling. (September for Reading Day; November for Education Day; May for Olympics. They made nursery rhymes out of it.) George had dressed by the wall lights, with his parents far more excited than he himself was. His father was a Registered Pipe Fitter and had found his occupation on earth. This fact had always been a humiliation to him, although, of course, as anyone could see plainly, most of each generation must stay on Earth in the nature of things.
There had to be farmers and miners and even technicians on Earth. It was only the late-model, high-specialty professions that were in demand on the Outworlds, and only a few millions a year out of Earth’s eight billion population could be exported. Every man and woman on Earth couldn’t be among that group.
But every man and woman could hope that at least one of his children could be one, and Platen, Senior, was certainly no exception. It was obvious to him (and, to be sure, to others as well) that George was notably intelligent and quick-minded. He would be bound to do well and he would have to, as he was an only child. If George didn’t end on an Outworld, they would have to wait for grandchildren before a next chance would come along, and that was too far in the future to be much consolation.
Reading Day would not prove much, of course, but it would be the only indication they would have before the big day itself. Every parent on Earth would be listening to the quality of reading when his child came home with it; listening for any particularly easy flow of words and building that into certain omens of the future. There were few families that didn’t have at least one hopeful who, from Reading Day on, was the great hope because of the way he handled his trisyllabics.
Dimly, George was aware of the cause of his parents’ tension, and if there was any anxiety in his young heart that drizzly morning, it was only the fear that his father’s hopeful expression might fade out when he returned home with his reading.
The children met in the large assembly room of the town’s Education hall. All over Earth, in millions of local halls, throughout that month, similar groups of children would be meeting. George felt depressed by the grayness of the room and by the other children, strained and stiff in unaccustomed finery.
Automatically, George did as all the rest of the children did. He found the small clique that represented the children on his floor of the apartment house and joined them.
Trevelyan, who lived immediately next door, still wore his hair childishly long and was years removed from the sideburns and thin, reddish mustache that he was to grow as soon as he was physiologically capable of it.
Trevelyan (to whom George was then known as Jaw-joe) said, "Bet you’re scared."
"I am not," said George. Then, confidentially, "My folks got a hunk of printing up on the dresser in my room, and when! come home, I’m going to read it for them." (George’s main suffering at the moment lay in the fact