By ROBERT ZACKS
Illustrated by ASHMAN
[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Galaxy Science Fiction September 1955.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]
Once these laws were passed, any time in
history—however bad—were the good old days!
Jeb was shaken from his bed; his dream told him it was a glacier with wild winds howling laughter, and when he opened his eyes, shivering, he saw his wife, Laurie, had pulled the heat switch off. She stood there glaring. Today her hair was a lovely purple with a fashionable streak of gold starting from the forehead, but it didn't help the cold look on her face.
"Get up, you bum," she said in her sweet contralto. "Go out and earn some credits or I'll certify you."
The thought of being transferred by the Economy Agent to Assigned Duty Status, with its virtual imprisonment to monotony by the Welfare Office, made Jeb tumble from bed and fumble for his shoes.
"My darling," he said placatingly, "how beautiful you are this morning! How undeserving I am of you!"
"You're damn right about that," said Laurie with bitterness. "When I think of the men I could have married, the wonderful life I might have lived, instead of scrimping along with a no-good freelance Monitor like you...."
"Sometimes I do pretty well. Three years ago, I sent you to the Pleasure Palace for a month, remember?"
"Three years ago. Big deal."
She flounced out of the room. Sadly, Jeb went to the closet and examined the various uniforms and disguises that were part of his equipment as a freelance Monitor. As he selected the silver and black skintight suit of an Air Pollution Inspector, he wistfully remembered how nice it had been when Laurie had smiled at him. Immediately a flood of determination filled him to go out and do big things today. Maybe he would make a big strike and get a nice fat commission; then Laurie would....
The televisor buzzed, flickered, and the genial face of the man from Marriage Relations appeared.
"Good morning, Monitor Jeb," said the man, smiling. "And how are things 'twixt you and your beloved?"
"Rough," moaned Jeb. "She's really in a foul mood today."
The man from Marriage Relations beamed. "Fine, fine, glad to hear it."
"Huh?" said Jeb.
"Her Sadism Index Rating went up five points," the man explained. "We wanted to make sure we hadn't made an error. Well, that certainly is good news for you two. I'll guess you'll both be all right now."
"All right? Are you kidding?"
"Now, now, we know what's best for you. Your Masochism Rating is quite high, you know. Laurie is just what you need. Why, you two were made for each other."
Suddenly the man stopped talking, gasped, and the screen flickered and went dead. Jeb's astonishment was wiped away by the soft, silvery bell tone of his portable Monitex, a flat two-by-six-inch machine resting on a shelf nearby. As Jeb wildly lunged toward it, he saw it was glowing red, activated by a violation, and as he snatched it up, the coded reading dial had a notification: Bx-P-203.
Trembling, Jeb pressed a button on the lower left of the Monitex and a voice promptly droned mechanically from the waferlike loudspeaker hidden under the surface, giving details of the violation.
"Bx-P-203—At ten minutes after eight A.M., Monitex 27965 of Freelance Monitor Jeb picked up violation of Copyright on the phrase 'were made for each other.' Said phrase property of Joint Owners registered under Copyright of Verbal Phrases Act of 1996. Owners, Magnum Motion Picture Studios and Universal Publications. Fee for use 80 credits, commission fifty per cent."
The voice went dead and the flat metal surface glowed with letters strung into words reading "Please Collect and Remit Total Fee."
As Jeb uttered a yelp of delight, Laurie came running into the room.
"I heard the Monitex bell," she said eagerly.
"You sure did," crowed Jeb. "Now aren't you proud of me? I was smart enough to leave the Monitex on all night. We picked up a Verbal Copyright violation...."
"You left it on all night?" screeched Laurie, her joy fading. "You imbecile, the leasing charge on the Monitex is ten credits an hour, isn't it? What's your commission on this violation?"
"Forty credits. I—I guess I'm losing money, b-but...."
Laurie gave him her opinion of his supposed shrewdness.
Jeb unhappily went to the televisor and punched out a call on the button keyboard which would recall the image of the Marriage Relations representative. He shrank back in alarm as the man's glaring face appeared.
"Sorry to hook you this way, old boy," said Jeb meekly, "but it's my job, you know. Got you on a Verbal for using 'were made for each other.' That phrase is owned by—"
"You dirty, sneaking spy!" yelled the man on the televisor screen. "I'll bet your grandfather informed on diamond smugglers for a percentage."
"He...." Jeb feebly started to protest.
"It's a hell of a thing," raved the other, "when a man can't even use words to express himself without paying...."
In alarm, Jeb leaned forward and hastily punched a combination of buttons on the televisor. One half the screen blanked. The image of the Marriage Relations representative moved to the right and the lean, puritanical face of Jeb's supervisor, Dirdon, flared onto the left half.
Dirdon looked icily at Jeb. "What is it?"
"Complaint on policy and purpose of Copyright Law," said Jeb nervously. "Would you please handle it, sir? I'll switch you."
As Dirdon's mouth pressed into a thin line and he nodded, Jeb flicked a switch. Both men on the screen immediately turned profiles to Jeb and Laurie, seeing each other in their own screens.
"Did you have a complaint, sir?" asked Dirdon.
"I don't know who the devil you are," shouted the man from Marriage Relations, "but I assume you're one of those pirates cashing in on that copyright swindle. That new law has gone much too far. Copyrighting a work of skill, art, or expression is okay, I suppose, but to extend it to everyday speech, to verbal phrases—"
"Now just a minute," said Dirdon briskly. "You buy greeting cards, I suppose, sir?"
"So I buy greeting cards, so what?"
"What are greeting cards exactly? Just a small square of paper with a few words, a very few words of sentiment on them. Words that any normal person certainly might be able to—"
"Any moron can write a better sentiment than those lousy cards express."
"But you buy them sometimes?"
"Well ... sometimes."
"Why?" demanded Dirdon.
"Saves me the bother of figuring out what to say, I guess," was the growled answer.
"Right. And you paid for these very few moronic phrases, paid good hard credits for them. Now isn't it just as logical to protect owners of a phrase when somebody else uses it verbally?"
"But," said the man desperately, "I didn't want to violate the Copyright on Verbal Use. I didn't know that phrase was under Copyright. Who can keep track of them all? Every day, more phrases and expressions are under Copyright as somebody else's property. Why, first thing you know, there'll hardly be any words left to say."
"That isn't true," objected Dirdon. "Copyright Law on Verbal Use is a great boon to society. Rule 7 for admission to protection requires that the phrase covered be one which may be considered 'shopworn, overused and so artistically traditional that it is a wearisome truism.' That means that verbal mediocrity is heavily penalized, which is right and proper. Why, you ought to be ashamed to use a phrase like 'were made for each other.' It's Monitors like Jeb who make you watch your words and think very carefully before you speak."
"Already," Dirdon plowed on, happily oratorical, "our citizens are being forced to express themselves more richly, with initiative, casting off triteness!"
The man from Marriage Relations looked disgusted. "Ah," he said angrily, "why don't you drop dead."
The man moaned as the Monitex Jeb held glowed red with another violation. Jeb grinned and pressed the loudspeaker button.
"Mz-R-14," droned the voice. "At half-past eight, Monitex 27965 of Freelance Monitor Jeb picked a violation of...."
The man covered his ears. After a few moments, he took his hands away and looked numbly from the screen as Dirdon smirked.
"What's the Copyright fee on that one?" he asked.
"The use of the words 'Drop Dead' will cost you ten credits," said Jeb. "We'll bill you for both violations."
Dirdon was beaming as Jeb snapped the whole screen dark.
With a start, Jeb remembered Laurie and turned to face her anger. "See, honeybunch?" he said hopefully. "Even if I did lose a few credits on the leasing charge by leaving the Monitex on all night, it looks like a lucky day. Why, I'll bet I make enough commissions today to send you on a nice vacation."
Laurie gave him a narrow-eyed, cold stare.
"You'd better," she said. "Because I've just about had enough of you. Either you make a big killing today or I certify you by midnight tonight. Do you hear me?"
Jeb nodded in fright. He scuttled out of the room, picking up a gravity harness from the stand in the foyer and not pausing to buckle himself into it until she slammed the door behind him.
Sighing, Jeb got into the harness and took off. He floated out the opening at the end of the corridor at the sixty-story level and joined the stream of commuters at two thousand feet.
As he set his speed at thirty miles an hour, he came abreast of a man wearing the solid gray uniform of an Unassigned Citizen. Jeb saw the look of misery on the man's drawn face and felt so sympathetic, he didn't even bother to hide his Monitex in its disguising parcel. You had to be pretty low to make your money out of a guy in that tough status. Hell, thought Jeb defiantly, let him see it and be warned; I don't care. Even if the Inspector sees me.
He noted the Unassigned Citizen staring down at the panorama of the vast city beneath them. At different lower levels, myriad flights of streaming citizens moved in various directions. The tremendous blocks of buildings had thin slits between them at the bottom of which were walks filled with antlike figures.
"Ugly, huh?" said Jeb.
He got a moody stare in return. "Believe it or not, I suddenly find it beautiful. Compared to where I'm heading, anyway."
Jeb was shocked. "Oh?"
"I've been certified," said the man bluntly. "Not enough credits for support. I had to go to the Welfare Office and ask for assistance. Had my own gravity harness repair shop till a month ago. But the new ones are foolproof, business fell off. Now I'm in for it."
"Gosh," muttered Jeb, "that's really tough. But what do you mean, 'compared to where you're heading?' Sure, you'll be assigned a dirty underground job, on the cables maybe, and the pay will be ridiculous, but it'll be right here, won't it?"
"Haven't you heard?" The other smiled grimly. "So many of us small business guys are being certified, the Welfare people had no more jobs. And you know the law. Indigents must be assigned to some duty. And it just happens that they're opening new mines on Mars and they can't get help. I've no choice."
"Mines?" Jeb paled at the thought. "That Melbonite dust. One speck through the sealed-in suit and you've got a burn they still can't heal." He shuddered; then, seeing the face of the Unassigned Citizen, he said soothingly, "But those suits are foolproof, I understand."
"Not always," said the man in gray. "Anyway, they haven't licked the ventilation problem. The last suits they tried to air-condition, so much Melbonite dust filtered in...." He took a deep breath of horror. "So the ones in use become awfully sweaty. I'm going to a living hell...."
Jeb's Monitex glowed red with a violation. "Living Hell" was an old-fashioned dramatic phrase somebody sharp had dug up after diligent study and copyrighted in the hope of picking up a few credits.
As Jeb numbly listened to the droning voice detail the facts and four credits charge, the man in the gray suit said mirthlessly, "Well, well, that's just fine. Thanks a lot, my friend, for a nice sendoff."
Jeb snapped off the Monitex. "Look," he said hurriedly, "that was an accident. This one is on me. Here." He took four credit tokens from a pocket and thrust the silvery rectangles at the Unassigned Citizen. "Put these aside until you're billed for the violation and pay it with my credits. Okay?"
"Thanks," said the man gratefully. "I'll remember you."
Jeb gave him a twisted grin. "You may not have to, pal. I may be right beside you in the next shipment. My wife is ready to certify me for non-support. If I don't clean up a nice fat commission by tonight, blooey, it's the mines for me, too."
The Unassigned Citizen started to form the words Good luck! when Jeb hastily interrupted, "That's on Copyright. Take it easy."
"Uh ... my heart goes beside yours," said the man, choosing his words carefully. "My sympathy has arms, one of which is around your mighty shoulders. I say to you farewell."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed Jeb. He pumped the other's hand. "I like the way you put that. It's new. It has a freshness."
They smiled at each other. Then the oval building that housed The SuperMonitex Feeder came into view and Jeb waved good-by and swung out of the commuter stream in the regulation spiral under the cold eyes of a golden-clad traffic cop. Jeb landed on the balcony ledge outside the ninetieth-level corridor and walked in, finally entering a huge room in the center of which was a circular wall with plug outlets and sets of dials and screens at intervals all the way around.
Jeb greeted a few of his co-workers, but didn't pause to gossip. He wasn't in a gay mood this morning, as were many of them who were gleefully recounting some of the slick violations they'd picked up. Jeb went to the circular wall and plugged his Monitex into a receptacle. He punched a button marked New Copyrights and waited for the humming to stop indicating that his Monitex had been fed all the latest phrases added to the huge group protected by law.
With his Monitex coded up to date, its memory bank fattened, Jeb went to the supply room to requisition a hollowed-out air pollution meter to conceal his Monitex. A hand tapped his shoulder.
"Hi, there," said Monitor Platt, a lean-faced, smirking man Jeb disliked. "I just came off night shift. Had a big evening."
"Yeah?" asked Jeb, his skin crawling. Monitor Platt specialized in copyright violations in the area of lakes and parks where lovers murmured words they soon found out were not at all new and quite expensive.
Monitor Platt chuckled. "Been cleaning up on a new copyright just registered. The good old wolf whistle. One hundred credits fee."
Even Jeb was startled. "But that's not a phrase."
"No, but it's a 'shopworn, overused and wearisome truism,' so they slipped it through."
"Golly, next thing you know, they'll be copyrighting a deep sigh or the smacking sound of a kiss."
Monitor Platt laughed in appreciation. Then, as Jeb frowned and attended to fitting his detector into the shell of the air pollution meter, Monitor Platt regaled him with the violations that had poured credits into his pockets.
"Got a cute dame, nice curves, getting a good hugging under the moon near the lake. She says timidly to this sap, 'It's the first time I've ever been kissed, honestly.' Bong! Fifty credits for the expense account. And another one I picked up in a canoe parked on the bank. This guy says soulfully, 'I'm not the marrying kind, but....' He never gets a chance to finish. Bong! Thirty credits. I sure cleaned up today. If I were you, I'd head straight for the snuggle spots. A whole raft of corny love lines have been blanketed in, you know, and nobody's alerted."
"Uh, well," muttered Jeb, who didn't want any enemies and so didn't express his feelings about making a living from such a source, "I already have my schedule figured out, but I'll keep it in mind."
"Where you headed for?"
Monitor Jeb was relieved when the big bell sounded, its brassy reverberations warning Monitors to quit gabbing and get out into the field to scoop up violations and revenue for the corporation. The paunchy office manager, seated up on a small balcony overlooking the giant hall, saw that the signal was, as usual, being ignored. Indignantly he punched a button on the board facing him and a repulsive odor filled the air which had the Monitors hastily seizing their equipment and leaving the building.
Jeb gladly took off into the windy canyons between the skyscrapers. Instead of ascending, he plummeted down forty stories and drifted along, his nostrils twitching with the bad air at this height. Fleetingly, he had the grumbling thought that, with present-day technology, there was no excuse at all for polluted atmosphere.
Oh, well, he thought, one of these days, somebody public-minded will do something about it. Right now, I've got to make enough to stop Laurie from certifying me.
He felt a sudden chill as he recalled his wife's threat. Quickly he sought out the first location he'd mapped out for some easy revenue, the personnel office of the Air Pollution Control Corp. Jeb switched off anti-gravity and heavily walked through the corridor, stepped inside the deep-rugged, gray and green office and joined the small nervous group of inspectors waiting for interviews.
Jeb, in his air pollution uniform, was as acceptable as a long-used piece of furniture. Unnoticed, he sat on one of the hard benches with the others. They stared and listened to the interview being conducted by the genial, balding man behind the open partition ten feet away. The air pollution inspector facing him was tense, pale and overanxious.
"Yes, indeed, you do have a good record," the personnel man was saying approvingly. "No absences in five years, no latenesses. Very good indeed."
"Then," said the air pollution inspector eagerly, "I'll be upgraded? I'll get that promotion promised two years ago?"
The personnel man cleared his throat, but his smile remained radiant. "Just as soon as business picks up, we'll give you a promotion and raise in pay...."
A roar of mirth arose from the waiting air pollution men as Monitor Jeb nervously pulled his Monitex from its concealing pollution meter shell and read the violation off to the enraged personnel man. A fifty credit fee for use of the copyrighted verbal phrase Just as soon as business picks up, we'll give you a promotion and raise in pay.
As Jeb escaped the wrath of his victim, one of the men snickering nearby muttered, "Hah! He'll have to rack his tiny brain for a new way of stalling us from now on."
In the next three hours, Jeb drove himself hard. He picked up a twenty credit fee when a doorman outside a Teletheatre had bonged the Monitex with "Plenty of seats inside!" He scooped up another violation in a bar when a bleary-eyed man with veins showing in his nose murmured to the bartender, "Well, I'll have just one more." He wandered to the telephone booths and waited for one of the standby violations to fall into his pocket; sure enough, a handsome, dark-eyed fellow murmured into the mouthpiece, "I'll be working late tonight again, honey; sorry."
The time passed too swiftly and when Jeb paused to get a bite of food, he saw, dismayed, that even though he was having a pretty good day, it was far from the killing he'd promised Laurie. Ten and twenty credit violations didn't make a man rich.
What I need is one of the really big ones, thought Jeb desperately.
With fumbling fingers, he pressed out a core number on the Monitex.
It glowed blue.
The voice droned, "Information!"
Jeb asked eagerly, "What have we got with fees of a thousand credits and higher?"
A moment hummed by. Then the voice announced that a large batch of political "corn" had been copyrighted in view of the current election campaign. Jeb listened with mounting excitement to some of them: If I am elected, taxes will be reduced.... As I look upon the intelligent faces in my audience.... I am reminded of a story.... What a lovely child, Madam.... A helicopter on every roof....
Jeb shut it off, perspiration breaking out on his face. It was a uranium mine! Jeb's mind reeled at the astonishing fee set for these copyright violations. A thousand credits per use. The party in power was really out to fight off the opposing Traditionalist Party with every possible trick, with the result that Jeb could make the biggest cleanup of his life.
That is, if he got away alive.
Full of foreboding, Jeb floated up toward the meeting rooms of the local Traditionalist Headquarters, which were on the fiftieth level of a nearby skyscraper. His terrified adrenal glands kicked his heart into a frenzy. The boys who ran the local club were no patsies. Many an argumentative citizen had been found floating in the rarified stratosphere, frozen stiff, with his anti-gravity belt turned on full and his hands bound so he could not stop the upward climb.
Monitor Jeb nervously drifted into the corridor opening and restored gravity. He sneaked past the open door, getting a quick glimpse of a hall filled with citizens listening to a red-faced, stoutish man on a platform.
Jeb frantically searched for and, with throat-catching relief, found the back entrance to the big hall. It led to a dusty area of scaffolding and discarded, rusting tools. Now Jeb was crawling down an incline leading under the platform and found the small, railed-off area which once had housed a hidden prompter for musical entertainments.
Panting, Jeb squatted in the dark, hearing the booming voice just above him, only slightly muffled. As Jeb shoved the Monitex up against the crack in the boards over him, the speaker's voice came to him strongly, "Now, fellers, you're all precinct captains and it's a helluva empty title to have when your party is outa power. But if we get back on the gravy train—well, need I say more?"
A muffled roar from the audience made Jeb crouch worriedly.
"Now we're gonna take this election, see? I want all you loyal party workers...."
Howls of rage shook the walls and reverberated through to Jeb as the political hacks recognized the sound and understood that somewhere a Monitex had automatically recorded the voice vibration pattern of the speaker in a Verbal Copyright violation.
"Kill the dirty spy!" screamed the speaker.
Bong! went the Monitex.
In three minutes of unguarded outrage, Jeb had recorded ten thousand credits in violations which the speakers never could escape because, like fingerprints, all voice patterns were registered by the government.
Jeb turned to the exit behind him and crawled painfully for twenty feet, then got up and began running. He ran straight into a brawny body at the turn of the corridor. The next thing he knew, he was on his back and ruthless hands were banging his head against the floor.
The siren of a golden-clad policeman cut the air and magically the hands fell away, leaving Jeb sprawling and groggy.
After a moment, he was able to focus his eyes. The policeman stared down at him, fists authoritatively on his hips.
"Well, I came just in time, eh?" said the cop. "Saved your neck."
Bong! went the Monitex.
Jeb said hastily, "It's all right, Officer. It's on the house."
"It had damn well better be," growled the policeman. "If you know what's good for you—"
Bong! went the Monitex.
"Go on, get outa here before I run ya in," yelled the officer.
Bong! went the Monitex.
"Have a good time, dear," Jeb called after Laurie as she happily took off into space from their level, clutching her purse, which was jammed with enough credits to keep her brimful of fun for two whole months at the Pleasure Palace.
"Don't you worry about that," said Laurie over her shoulder.
Jeb went back to his apartment. He stretched out on the couch, contentment welling up in him. He opened the footstool nearby and, within its archaic shape, slid open the cunningly concealed refrigerator. He took out a plastic cone of beer.
"A-ah!" sighed Jeb. How wonderful to be alone, free of Laurie's nagging for two whole months! A superb reward for his hard work. How clever of the government to have passed such a regulation!
After a while, like wax melting, his grin drooped away. It certainly was quiet, wasn't it?
Within half an hour, he was wild and didn't know why. Jittering, he dialed his televisor and the man from Marriage Relations appeared on the screen. He glared at Jeb and cautiously looked around for the Monitex until he spotted it.
"Shut that thing off or no advice," snapped the man.
"It's off! Look, I don't know what's bothering me. Can I have special permission to join my wife on her vacation? Or get her back here?"
"Afraid not," said the man. "The principle of working so one's wife can have a vacation has been established through the centuries; the government merely put it into law. And as for joining her or getting her back here—that's against the law."
"But that's unfair!" yelled Jeb.
"Oh?" The man smiled. "So! I'm glad to see how happy, how perfect is the marriage we arranged for you." He rubbed his hands in delight. "She's just barely gone and already you miss her. Wonderful."
"Wonderful? I'm suffering!"
The man from Marriage Relations glanced at a dial nearby. "Of course you are. Suffering is the ideal joy for a Masochist. Just think what a lovely two months of missing her you'll have."
"All right, so it's a rule that I have to send her on a vacation and can't join her," Jeb complained savagely, "but, damn it, she doesn't have to enjoy it!"
"Well," said the man, looking back to Jeb, "there's the answer. Your Masochism index has gone down any number of points. You're angry!"
Jeb thought it over. "You bet I am! But what do I do about it?"
"Why," said the man from Marriage Relations, "the same thing husbands have been doing ever since they started working to send their wives away on vacations. When the cat's away, you know—" He stopped in alarm.
Jeb grinned. "I told you the Monitex is off. But thanks for the trite truism. She thinks she's the only one who'll have a vacation, eh? I'll show her!"
"Service is our motto. And it really is," the man said pugnaciously. "We own the Copyright."
The face flickered off the screen and Jeb began poking around in innocent-looking secret places for a little black book he hadn't thought of using in years.
He was dismayed to find himself singing "My wife's gone to the country, hooray, hooray," until he remembered that he actually had shut off the Monitex.