AT TEN IN THE MORNING a terrific horn, familiar to him, hooted Sam Regan out of his sleep, and he cursed the careboy upstairs; he knew the racket was deliberate. The careboy, circling, wanted to be certain that flukers -- and not merely wild animals -- got the care parcels that were to be dropped.
We'll get them, we'll get them, Sam Regan said to himself as he zipped his dust-proof overalls, put his feet into boots and then grumpily sauntered as slowly as possible toward the ramp. Several other flukers joined him, all showing similar irritation.
"He's early today," Tod Morrison complained. "And I'll bet it's all staples, sugar and flour and lard -- nothing interesting like say candy."
"We ought to be grateful," Norman Schein said.
"Grateful!" Tod halted to stare at him. "GRATEFUL?"
"Yes," Schein said. "What do you think we'd be eating without them: If they hadn't seen the clouds ten years ago."
"Well," Tod said sullenly, "I just don't like them to come early; I actually don't exactly mind their coming, as such."
As he put his shoulders against the lid at the top of the ramp, Schein said genially, "That's mighty tolerant of you, Tod boy. I'm sure the careboys would be pleased to hear your sentiments."
Of the three of them, Sam Regan was the last to reach the surface; he did not like the upstairs at all, and he did not care who knew it. And anyhow, no one could compel him to leave the safety of the Pinole Fluke-pit; it was entirely his business, and he noted now that a number of his fellow flukers had elected to remain below in their quarters, confident that those who did answer the horn would bring them back something.
"It's bright," Tod murmured, blinking in the sun.
The care ship sparkled close overhead, set against the gray sky as if hanging from an uneasy thread. Good pilot, this drop, Tod decided. He, or rather it, just lazily handles it, in no hurry. Tod waved at the care ship, and once more the huge horn burst out its din, making him clap his hands to his ears. Hey, a joke's a joke, he said to himself. And then the horn ceased; the careboy had relented.
"Wave to him to drop," Norm Schein said to Tod. "You've got the wigwag."
"Sure," Tod said, and began laboriously flapping the red flag, which the Martian creatures had long ago provided, back and forth, back and forth.
A projectile slid from the underpart of the ship, tossed out stabilizers, spiraled toward the ground.
"Sheoot," Sam Regan said with disgust. "It is staples; they don't have the parachute." He turned away, not interested.
How miserable the upstairs looked today, he thought as he surveyed the scene surrounding him. There, to the right, the uncompleted house which someone -- not far from their pit -- had begun to build out of lumber salvaged from Vallejo, ten miles to the north. Animals or radiation dust had gotten the builder, and so his work remained where it was; it would never be put to use. And, Sam Regan saw, an unusually heavy precipitate had formed since last he had been up here, Thursday morning or perhaps Friday; he had lost exact track. The darn dust, he thought. Just rocks, pieces of rubble, and the dust. World's becoming a dusty object with no one to whisk it off regularly. How about you? he asked silently of the Martian careboy flying in slow circles overhead. Isn't your technology limitless? Can't you appear some morning with a dust rag a million miles in surface area and restore our planet to pristine newness?
Or rather, he thought, to pristine oldness, the way it was in the "ol-days," as the children call it. We'd like that. While you're looking for something to give to us in the way of further aid, try that.
The careboy circled once more, searching for signs of writing in the dust: a message from the flukers below. I'll write that, Sam thought. BRING DUST RAG, RESTORE OUR CIVILIZATION. Okay, careboy?
All at once the care ship shot off, no doubt on its way back home to its base on Luna or perhaps all the way to Mars.
From the open fluke-pit hole, up which the three of them had come, a further head poked, a woman. Jean Regan, Sam's wife, appeared, shielded by a bonnet against the gray, blinding sun, frowning and saying, "Anything important? Anything new?"
" 'Fraid not," Sam said. The care parcel projectile had landed and he walked toward it, scuffing his boots in the dust. The hull of the projectile had cracked open from the impact and he could see the canisters already. It looked to be five thousand pounds of salt -- might as well leave it up here so the animals wouldn't starve, he decided. He felt despondent.
How peculiarly anxious the careboys were. Concerned all the time that the mainstays of existence be ferried from their own planet to Earth. They must think we eat all day long, Sam thought. My God. . . the pit was filled to capacity with stored foods. But of course it had been one of the smallest public shelters in Northern California.
"Hey," Schein said, stooping down by the projectile and peering into the crack opened along its side. "I believe I see something we can use." He found a rusted metal pole -- once it had helped reinforce the concrete side of an ol-days public building -- and poked at the projectile, stirring its release mechanism into action. The mechanism, triggered off, popped the rear half of the projectile open. . . and there lay the contents.
"Looks like radios in that box," Tod said. "Transistor radios." Thoughtfully stroking his short black beard he said, "Maybe we can use them for something new in our layouts."
"Mine's already got a radio," Schein pointed out.
"Well, build an electronic self-directing lawn mower with the parts," Tod said. "You don't have that, do you?" He knew the Scheins' Perky Pat layout fairly well; the two couples, he and his wife with Schein and his, had played together a good deal, being almost evenly matched.
Sam Regan said, "Dibs on the radios, because I can use them." His layout lacked the automatic garage-door opener that both Schein and Tod had; he was considerably behind them.
"Let's get to work," Schein agreed. "We'll leave the staples here and just cart back the radios. If anybody wants the staples, let them come here and get them. Before the do-cats do."
Nodding, the other two men fell to the job of carting the useful contents of the projectile to the entrance of their fluke-pit ramp. For use in their precious, elaborate Perky Pat layouts.
Seated cross-legged with his whetstone, Timothy Schein, ten years old and aware of his many responsibilities, sharpened his knife, slowly and expertly. Meanwhile, disturbing him, his mother and father noisily quarreled with Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, on the far side of the partition. They were playing Perky Pat again. As usual.
How many times today they have to play that dumb game? Timothy asked himself. Forever, I guess. He could see nothing in it, but his parents played on anyhow. And they weren't the only ones; he knew from what other kids said, even from other fluke-pits, that their parents, too, played Perky Pat most of the day, and sometimes even on into the night.
His mother said loudly, "Perky Pat's going to the grocery store and it's got one of those electric eyes that opens the door. Look." A pause. "See, it opened for her, and now she's inside."
"She pushes a cart," Timothy's dad added, in support.
"No, she doesn't," Mrs. Morrison contradicted. "That's wrong. She gives her list to the grocer and he fills it."
"That's only in little neighborhood stores," his mother explained. "And this is a supermarket, you can tell because of the electric eye door."
"I'm sure all grocery stores had electric eye doors," Mrs. Morrison said stubbornly, and her husband chimed in with his agreement. Now the voices rose in anger; another squabble had broken out. As usual.
Aw, cung to them, Timothy said to himself, using the strongest word which he and his friends knew. What's a supermarket anyhow? He tested the blade of his knife -- he had made it himself, originally, out of a heavy metal pan -- and then hopped to his feet. A moment later he had sprinted silently down the hall and was rapping his special rap on the door of the Chamberlains' quarters.
Fred, also ten years old, answered. "Hi. Ready to go? I see you got that old knife of yours sharpened; what do you think we'll catch?"
"Not a do-cat," Timothy said. "A lot better than that; I'm tired of eating do-cat. Too peppery."
"Your parents playing Perky Pat?"
Fred said, "My mom and dad have been gone for a long time, off playing with the Benteleys." He glanced sideways at Timothy, and in an instant they had shared their mute disappointment regarding their parents. Gosh, and maybe the darn game was all over the world, by now; that would not have surprised either of them.
"How come your parents play it?" Timothy asked.
"Same reason yours do," Fred said.
Hesitating, Timothy said, "Well, why? I don't know why they do; I'm asking you, can't you say?"
"It's because --" Fred broke off. "Ask them. Come on; let's get upstairs and start hunting." His eyes shone. "Let's see what we can catch and kill today."
Shortly, they had ascended the ramp, popped open the lid, and were crouching amidst the dust and rocks, searching the horizon. Timothy's heart pounded; this moment always overwhelmed him, the first instant of reaching the upstairs. The thrilling initial sight of the expanse. Because it was never the same. The dust, heavier today, had a darker gray color to it than before; it seemed denser, more mysterious.
Here and there, covered by many layers of dust, lay parcels dropped from past relief ships -- dropped and left to deteriorate. Never to be claimed. And, Timothy saw, an additional new projectile which had arrived that morning.
Most of its cargo could be seen within; the grownups had not had any use for the majority of the contents, today.
"Look," Fred said softly.
Two do-cats -- mutant dogs or cats; no one knew for sure -- could be seen, lightly sniffing at the projectile. Attracted by the unclaimed contents.
"We don't want them," Timothy said.
"That one's sure nice and fat," Fred said longingly. But it was Timothy that had the knife; all he himself had was a string with a metal bolt on the end, a bull-roarer that could kill a bird or a small animal at a distance -- but useless against a do-cat, which generally weighed fifteen to twenty pounds and sometimes more.
High up in the sky a dot moved at immense speed, and Timothy knew that it was a care ship heading for another fluke-pit, bringing supplies to it. Sure are busy, he thought to himself. Those careboys always coming and going; they never stop, because if they did, the grownups would die. Wouldn't that be too bad? he thought ironically. Sure be sad.
Fred said, "Wave to it and maybe it'll drop something." He grinned at Timothy, and then they both broke out laughing.
"Sure," Timothy said. "Let's see; what do I want?" Again the two of them laughed at the idea of them wanting something. The two boys had the entire upstairs, as far as the eye could see. . . they had even more than the careboys had, and that was plenty, more than plenty.
"Do you think they know?" Fred said, "that our parents play Perky Pat with furniture made out of what they drop? I bet they don't know about Perky Pat; they never have seen a Perky Pat doll, and if they did they'd be really mad."
"You're right," Timothy said. "They'd be so sore they'd probably stop dropping stuff." He glanced at Fred, catching his eye.
"Aw no," Fred said. "We shouldn't tell them; your dad would beat you again if you did that, and probably me, too."
Even so, it was an interesting idea. He could imagine first the surprise and then the anger of the careboys; it would be fun to see that, see the reaction of the eight-legged Martian creatures who had so much charity inside their warty bodies, the cephalopodic univalve mollusk-like organisms who had voluntarily taken it upon themselves to supply succor to the waning remnants of the human race. . . this was how they got paid back for their charity, this utterly wasteful, stupid purpose to which their goods were being put. This stupid Perky Pat game that all the adults played.
And anyhow it would be very hard to tell them; there was almost no communication between humans and careboys. They were too different. Acts, deeds, could be done, conveying something. . . but not mere words, not mere signs. And anyhow --
A great brown rabbit bounded by to the right, past the half-completed house. Timothy whipped out his knife. "Oh boy!" he said aloud in excitement. "Let's go!" He set off across the rubbly ground, Fred a little behind him. Gradually they gained on the rabbit; swift running came easy to the two boys: they had done much practicing.
"Throw the knife!" Fred panted, and Timothy, skidding to a halt, raised his right arm, paused to take aim, and then hurled the sharpened, weighted knife. His most valuable, self-made possession.
It cleaved the rabbit straight through its vitals. The rabbit tumbled, slid, raising a cloud of dust.
"I bet we can get a dollar for that!" Fred exclaimed, leaping up and down. "The hide alone -- I bet we can get fifty cents just for the darn hide!"
Together, they hurried toward the dead rabbit, wanting to get there before a red-tailed hawk or a day-owl swooped on it from the gray sky above.
Bending, Norman Schein picked up his Perky Pat doll and said sullenly, "I'm quitting; I don't want to play any more."
Distressed, his wife protested, "But we've got Perky Pat all the way downtown in her new Ford hardtop convertible and parked and a dime in the meter and she's shopped and now she's in the analyst's office reading Fortune -- we're way ahead of the Morrisons! Why do you want to quit, Norm?"
"We just don't agree," Norman grumbled. "You say analysts charged twenty dollars an hour and I distinctly remember them charging only ten; nobody could charge twenty. So you're penalizing our side, and for what? The Morrisons agree it was only ten. Don't you?" he said to Mr. and Mrs. Morrison, who squatted on the far side of the layout which combined both couples' Perky Pat sets.
Helen Morrison said to her husband, "You went to the analyst more than I did; are you sure he charged only ten?"
"Well, I went mostly to group therapy," Tod said. "At the Berkeley State Mental Hygiene Clinic, and they charged according to your ability to pay. And Perky Pat is at a private psychoanalyst."
"We'll have to ask someone else," Helen said to Norman Schein. "I guess all we can do now this minute is suspend the game." He found himself being glared at by her, too, now, because by his insistence on the one point he had put an end to their game for the whole afternoon.
"Shall we leave it all set up?" Fran Schein asked. "We might as well; maybe we can finish tonight after dinner."
Norman Schein gazed down at their combined layout, the swanky shops, the well-lit streets with the parked new-model cars, all of them shiny, the split-level house itself, where Perky Pat lived and where she entertained Leonard, her boy friend. It was the house that he perpetually yearned for; the house was the real focus of the layout -- of all the Perky Pat layouts, however much they might otherwise differ.
Perky Pat's wardrobe, for instance, there in the closet of the house, the big bedroom closet. Her capri pants, her white cotton short-shorts, her two-piece polka dot swimsuit, her fuzzy sweaters. . . and there, in her bedroom, her hi-fi set, her collection of long playing records. . .
It had been this way, once, really been like this in the ol-days. Norm Schein could remember his own lp record collection, and he had once had clothes almost as swanky as Perky Pat's boy friend Leonard, cashmere jackets and tweed suits and Italian sportshirts and shoes made in England. He hadn't owned a Jaguar XKE sports car, like Leonard did, but he had owned a fine-looking old 1963 Mercedes-Benz, which he had used to drive to work.
We lived then, Norm Schein said to himself, like Perky Pat and Leonard do now. This is how it actually was.
To his wife he said, pointing to the clock radio which Perky Pat kept beside her bed, "Remember our G.E. clock radio? How it used to wake us up in the morning with classical music from that FM station, KSFR? The 'Wolf-gangers,' the program was called. From six A.M. to nine every morning."
"Yes," Fran said, nodding soberly. "And you used to get up before me; I knew I should have gotten up and fixed bacon and hot coffee for you, but it was so much fun just indulging myself, not stirring for half an hour longer, until the kids woke up."
"Woke up, hell; they were awake before we were," Norm said. "Don't you remember? They were in the back watching 'The Three Stooges' on TV until eight. Then I got up and fixed hot cereal for them, and then I went on to my job at Ampex down at Redwood City."
"Oh yes," Fran said. "The TV." Their Perky Pat did not have a TV set; they had lost it to the Regans in a game a week ago, and Norm had not yet been able to fashion another one realistic-looking enough to substitute. So, in a game, they pretended now that "the TV repairman had come for it." That was how they explained their Perky Pat not having something she really would have had.
Norm thought, Playing this game. . . it's like being back there, back in the world before the war. That's why we play it, I suppose. He felt shame, but only fleetingly; the shame, almost at once, was replaced by the desire to play a little longer.
"Let's not quit," he said suddenly. "I'll agree the psychoanalyst would have charged Perky Pat twenty dollars. Okay?"
"Okay," both the Morrisons said together, and they settled back down once more to resume the game.
Tod Morrison had picked up their Perky Pat; he held it, stroking its blonde hair -- theirs was blonde, whereas the Scheins' was a brunette -- and fiddling with the snaps of its skirt.
"Whatever are you doing?" his wife inquired.
"Nice skirt she has," Tod said. "You did a good job sewing it."
Norm said, "Ever know a girl, back in the ol-days, that looked like Perky Pat?"
"No," Tod Morrison said somberly. "Wish I had, though. I saw girls like Perky Pat, especially when I was living in Los Angeles during the Korean War. But I just could never manage to know them personally. And of course there were really terrific girl singers, like Peggy Lee and Julie London. . . they looked a lot like Perky Pat."
"Play," Fran said vigorously. And Norm, whose turn it was, picked up the spinner and spun.
"Eleven," he said. "That gets my Leonard out of the sports car repair garage and on his way to the race track." He moved the Leonard doll ahead.
Thoughtfully, Tod Morrison said, "You know, I was out the other day hauling in perishables which the careboys had dropped. . . Bill Ferner was there, and he told me something interesting. He met a fluker from a fluke-pit down where Oakland used to be. And at that fluke-pit you know what they play? Not Perky Pat. They never have heard of Perky Pat."
"Well, what do they play, then?" Helen asked.
"They have another doll entirely." Frowning, Tod continued, "Bill says the Oakland fluker called it a Connie Companion doll. Ever hear of that?"
"A 'Connie Companion' doll," Fran said thoughtfully. "How strange. I wonder what she's like. Does she have a boy friend?"
"Oh sure," Tod said. "His name is Paul. Connie and Paul. You know, we ought to hike down there to that Oakland Fluke-pit one of these days and see what Connie and Paul look like and how they live. Maybe we could learn a few things to add to our own layouts."
Norm said, "Maybe we could play them."
Puzzled, Fran said, "Could a Perky Pat play a Connie Companion? Is that possible? I wonder what would happen?"
There was no answer from any of the others. Because none of them knew.
As they skinned the rabbit, Fred said to Timothy, "Where did the name 'fluker' come from? It's sure an ugly word; why do they use it?"
"A fluker is a person who lived through the hydrogen war," Timothy explained. "You know, by a fluke. A fluke of fate? See? Because almost everyone was killed; there used to be thousands of people."
"But what's a 'fluke,' then? When you say a 'fluke of fate' --"
"A fluke is when fate has decided to spare you," Timothy said, and that was all he had to say on the subject. That was all he knew.
Fred said thoughtfully, "But you and I, we're not flukers because we weren't alive when the war broke out. We were born after."
"Right," Timothy said.
"So anybody who calls me a fluker," Fred said, "is going to get hit in the eye with my bull-roarer."
"And 'careboy,' " Timothy said, "that's a made-up word, too. It's from when stuff was dumped from jet planes and ships to people in a disaster area. They were called 'care parcels' because they came from people who cared."
"I know that," Fred said. "I didn't ask that."
"Well, I told you anyhow," Timothy said.
The two boys continued skinning the rabbit.
Jean Regan said to her husband, "Have you heard about the Connie Companion doll?" She glanced down the long rough-board table to make sure none of the other families was listening. "Sam," she said, "I heard it from Helen Morrison; she heard it from Tod and he heard it from Bill Ferner, I think. So it's probably true."
"What's true?" Sam said.
"That in the Oakland Fluke-pit they don't have Perky Pat; they have Connie Companion. . . and it occurred to me that maybe some of this -- you know, this sort of emptiness, this boredom we feel now and then -- maybe if we saw the Connie Companion doll and how she lives, maybe we could add enough to our own layout to --" She paused, reflecting. "To make it more complete."
"I don't care for the name," Sam Regan said. "Connie Companion; it sounds cheap." He spooned up some of the plain, utilitarian grain-mash which the careboys had been dropping, of late. And, as he ate a mouthful, he thought, I'll bet Connie Companion doesn't eat slop like this; I'll bet she eats cheeseburgers with all the trimmings, at a high-type drive-in.
"Could we make a trek down there?" Jean asked.
"To Oakland Fluke-pit?" Sam stared at her. "It's fifteen miles, all the way on the other side of the Berkeley Fluke-pit!"
"But this is important," Jean said stubbornly. "And Bill says that a fluker from Oakland came all the way up here, in search of electronic parts or something. . . so if he can do it, we can. We've got the dust suits they dropped us. I know we could do it."
Little Timothy Schein, sitting with his family, had overheard her; now he spoke up. "Mrs. Regan, Fred Chamberlain and I, we could trek down that far, if you pay us. What do you say?" He nudged Fred, who sat beside him. "Couldn't we? For maybe five dollars."
Fred, his face serious, turned to Mrs. Regan and said, "We could get you a Connie Companion doll. For five dollars for each of us."
"Good grief," Jean Regan said, outraged. And dropped the subject.
But later, after dinner, she brought it up again when she and Sam were alone in their quarters.
"Sam, I've got to see it," she burst out. Sam, in a galvanized tub, was taking his weekly bath, so he had to listen to her. "Now that we know it exists we have to play against someone in the Oakland Fluke-pit; at least we can do that. Can't we? Please." She paced back and forth in the small room, her hands clasped tensely. "Connie Companion may have a Standard Station and an airport terminal with jet landing strip and color TV and a French restaurant where they serve escargot, like the one you and I went to when we were first married. . . I just have to see her layout."
"I don't know," Sam said hesitantly. "There's something about Connie Companion doll that -- makes me uneasy."
"What could it possibly be?"
"I don't know."
Jean said bitterly, "It's because you know her layout is so much better than ours and she's so much more than Perky Pat."
"Maybe that's it," Sam murmured.
"If you don't go, if you don't try to make contact with them down at the Oakland Fluke-pit, someone else will -- someone with more ambition will get ahead of you. Like Norman Schein. He's not afraid the way you are."
Sam said nothing; he continued with his bath. But his hands shook.
A careboy had recently dropped complicated pieces of machinery which were, evidently, a form of mechanical computer. For several weeks the computers -- if that was what they were -- had sat about the pit in their cartons, unused, but now Norman Schein was finding something to do with one. At the moment he was busy adapting some of its gears, the smallest ones, to form a garbage disposal unit for his Perky Pat's kitchen.
Using the tiny special tools -- designed and built by inhabitants of the fluke-pit -- which were necessary in fashioning environmental items for Perky Pat, he was busy at his hobby bench. Thoroughly engrossed in what he was doing, he all at once realized that Fran was standing directly behind him, watching.
"I get nervous when I'm watched," Norm said, holding a tiny gear with a pair of tweezers.
"Listen," Fran said, "I've thought of something. Does this suggest anything to you?" She placed before him one of the transistor radios which had been dropped the day before.
"It suggests that garage-door opener already thought of," Norm said irritably. He continued with his work, expertly fitting the miniature pieces together in the sink drain of Pat's kitchen; such delicate work demanded maximum concentration.
Fran said, "It suggests that there must be radio transmitters on Earth somewhere, or the careboys wouldn't have dropped these."
"So?" Norm said, uninterested.
"Maybe our Mayor has one," Fran said. "Maybe there's one right here in our own pit, and we could use it to call the Oakland Fluke-pit. Representatives from there could meet us halfway. . . say at the Berkeley Fluke-pit. And we could play there. So we wouldn't have that long fifteen mile trip."
Norman hesitated in his work; he set the tweezers down and said slowly, "I think possibly you're right." But if their Mayor Hooker Glebe had a radio transmitter, would he let them use it? And if he did --
"We can try," Fran urged. "It wouldn't hurt to try."
"Okay," Norm said, rising from his hobby bench.
The short, sly-faced man in Army uniform, the Mayor of the Pinole Fluke-pit, listened in silence as Norm Schein spoke. Then he smiled a wise, cunning smile. "Sure, I have a radio transmitter. Had it all the time. Fifty watt output. But why would you want to get in touch with the Oakland Fluke-pit?"
Guardedly, Norm said, "That's my business."
Hooker Glebe said thoughtfully, "I'll let you use it for fifteen dollars."
It was a nasty shock, and Norm recoiled. Good Lord; all the money he and his wife had -- they needed every bill of it for use in playing Perky Pat. Money was the tender in the game; there was no other criterion by which one could tell if he had won or lost. "That's too much," he said aloud.
"Well, say ten," the Mayor said, shrugging.
In the end they settled for six dollars and a fifty cent piece.
"I'll make the radio contact for you," Hooker Glebe said. "Because you don't know how. It will take time." He began turning a crank at the side of the generator of the transmitter. "I'll notify you when I've made contact with them. But give me the money now." He held out his hand for it, and, with great reluctance, Norm paid him.
It was not until late that evening that Hooker managed to establish contact with Oakland. Pleased with himself, beaming in self-satisfaction, he appeared at the Scheins' quarters, during their dinner hour. "All set," he announced. "Say, you know there are actually nine fluke-pits in Oakland? I didn't know that. Which you want? I've got one with the radio code of Red Vanilla." He chuckled. "They're tough and suspicious down there; it was hard to get any of them to answer."
Leaving his evening meal, Norman hurried to the Mayor's quarters, Hooker puffing along after him.
The transmitter, sure enough, was on, and static wheezed from the speaker of its monitoring unit. Awkwardly, Norm seated himself at the microphone. "Do I just talk?" he asked Hooker Glebe.
"Just say, This is Pinole Fluke-pit calling. Repeat that a couple of times and then when they acknowledge, you say what you want to say." The Mayor fiddled with controls of the transmitter, fussing in an important fashion. "This is Pinole Fluke-pit," Norm said loudly into the microphone. Almost at once a clear voice from the monitor said, "This is Red Vanilla Three answering." The voice was cold and harsh; it struck him forcefully as distinctly alien. Hooker was right.
"Do you have Connie Companion down there where you are?"
"Yes we do," the Oakland fluker answered.
"Well, I challenge you," Norman said, feeling the veins in his throat pulse with the tension of what he was saying. "We're Perky Pat in this area; we'll play Perky Pat against your Connie Companion. Where can we meet?"
"Perky Pat," the Oakland fluker echoed. "Yeah, I know about her. What would the stakes be, in your mind?"
"Up here we play for paper money mostly," Norman said, feeling that his response was somehow lame.
"We've got lots of paper money," the Oakland fluker said cuttingly. "That wouldn't interest any of us. What else?"
"I don't know." He felt hampered, talking to someone he could not see; he was not used to that. People should, he thought, be face to face, then you can see the other person's expression. This was not natural. "Let's meet halfway," he said, "and discuss it. Maybe we could meet at the Berkeley Fluke-pit; how about that?"
The Oakland fluker said, "That's too far. You mean lug our Connie Companion layout all that way? It's too heavy and something might happen to it."
"No, just to discuss rules and stakes," Norman said.
Dubiously, the Oakland fluker said, "Well, I guess we could do that. But you better understand -- we take Connie Companion doll pretty damn seriously; you better be prepared to talk terms."
"We will," Norm assured him.
All this time Mayor Hooker Glebe had been cranking the handle of the generator; perspiring, his face bloated with exertion, he motioned angrily for Norm to conclude his palaver.
"At the Berkeley Fluke-pit," Norm finished. "In three days. And send your best player, the one who has the biggest and most authentic layout. Our Perky Pat layouts are works of art, you understand."
The Oakland fluker said, "We'll believe that when we see them. After all, we've got carpenters and electricians and plasterers here, building our layouts; I'll bet you're all unskilled."
"Not as much as you think," Norm said hotly, and laid down the microphone. To Hooker Glebe -- who had immediately stopped cranking -- he said, "We'll beat them. Wait'll they see the garbage disposal unit I'm making for my Perky Pat; did you know there were people back in the ol-days, I mean real alive human beings, who didn't have garbage disposal units?"
"I remember," Hooker said peevishly. "Say, you got a lot of cranking for your money; I think you gypped me, talking so long." He eyed Norm with such hostility that Norm began to feel uneasy. After all, the Mayor of the pit had the authority to evict any fluker he wished; that was their law.
"I'll give you the fire alarm box I just finished the other day," Norm said. "In my layout it goes at the corner of the block where Perky Pat's boy friend Leonard lives."
"Good enough," Hooker agreed, and his hostility faded. It was replaced, at once, by desire. "Let's see it, Norm. I bet it'll go good in my layout; a fire alarm box is just what I need to complete my first block where I have the mailbox. Thank you."
"You're welcome," Norm sighed, philosophically.
When he returned from the two-day trek to the Berkeley Fluke-pit his face was so grim that his wife knew at once that the parley with the Oakland people had not gone well.
That morning a careboy had dropped cartons of a synthetic tea-like drink; she fixed a cup of it for Norman, waiting to hear what had taken place eight miles to the south.
"We haggled," Norm said, seated wearily on the bed which he and his wife and child all shared. "They don't want money; they don't want goods -- naturally not goods, because the darn careboys are dropping regularly down there, too."
"What will they accept, then?"
Norm said, "Perky Pat herself." He was silent, then.
"Oh good Lord," she said, appalled.
"But if we win," Norm pointed out, "we win Connie Companion."
"And the layouts? What about them?"
"We keep our own. It's just Perky Pat herself, not Leonard, not anything else."
"But," she protested, "what'll we do if we lose Perky Pat?"
"I can make another one," Norm said. "Given time. There's still a big supply of thermoplastics and artificial hair, here in the pit. And I have plenty of different paints; it would take at least a month, but I could do it. I don't look forward to the job, I admit. But --" His eyes glinted. "Don't look on the dark side; imagine what it would be like to win Connie Companion doll. I think we may well win; their delegate seemed smart and, as Hooker said, tough. . . but the one I talked to didn't strike me as being very flukey. You know, on good terms with luck."
And, after all, the element of luck, of chance, entered into each stage of the game through the agency of the spinner.
"It seems wrong," Fran said, "to put up Perky Pat herself. But if you say so --" She managed to smile a little. "I'll go along with it. And if you won Connie Companion -- who knows? You might be elected Mayor when Hooker dies. Imagine, to have won somebody else's doll -- not just the game, the money, but the doll itself
"I can win," Norm said soberly. "Because I'm very flukey." He could feel it in him, the same flukeyness that had got him through the hydrogen war alive, that had kept him alive ever since. You either have it or you don't, he realized. And I do.
His wife said, "Shouldn't we ask Hooker to call a meeting of everyone in the pit, and send the best player out of our entire group. So as to be the surest of winning."
"Listen," Norm Schein said emphatically. "I'm the best player. I'm going. And so are you; we make a good team, and we don't want to break it up. Anyhow, we'll need at least two people to carry Perky Pat's layout." All in all, he judged, their layout weighed sixty pounds.
His plan seemed to him to be satisfactory. But when he mentioned it to the others living in the Pinole Fluke-pit he found himself facing sharp disagreement. The whole next day was filled with argument.
"You can't lug your layout all that way yourselves," Sam Regan said. "Either take more people with you or carry your layout in a vehicle of some sort. Such as a cart." He scowled at Norm.
"Where'd I get a cart?" Norm demanded.
"Maybe something could be adapted," Sam said. "I'll give you every bit of help I can. Personally, I'd go along but as I told my wife this whole idea worries me." He thumped Norm on the back. "I admire your courage, you and Fran, setting off this way. I wish I had what it takes." He looked unhappy.
In the end, Norm settled on a wheelbarrow. He and Fran would take turns pushing it. That way neither of them would have to carry any load above and beyond their food and water, and of course knives by which to protect them from the do-cats.
As they were carefully placing the elements of their layout in the wheelbarrow, Norm Schein's boy Timothy came sidling up to them. "Take me along, Dad," he pleaded. "For fifty cents I'll go as guide and scout, and also I'll help you catch food along the way."
"We'll manage fine," Norm said. "You stay here in the fluke-pit; you'll be safer here." It annoyed him, the idea of his son tagging along on an important venture such as this. It was almost -- sacreligious.
"Kiss us goodbye," Fran said to Timothy, smiling at him briefly; then her attention returned to the layout within the wheelbarrow. "I hope it doesn't tip over," she said fearfully to Norm.
"Not a chance," Norm said. "If we're careful." He felt confident.
A few moments later they began wheeling the wheelbarrow up the ramp to the lid at the top, to upstairs. Their journey to the Berkeley Fluke-pit had begun.
A mile outside the Berkeley Fluke-pit he and Fran began to stumble over empty drop-canisters and some only partly empty remains of past care parcels such as littered the surface near their own pit. Norm Schein breathed a sigh of relief; the journey had not been so bad after all, except that his hands had become blistered from gripping the metal handles of the wheelbarrow, and Fran had turned her ankle so that now she walked with a painful limp. But it had taken them less time than he had anticipated, and his mood was one of buoyancy.
Ahead, a figure appeared, crouching low in the ash. A boy. Norm waved at him and called, "Hey, sonny -- we're from the Pinole pit; we're supposed to meet a party from Oakland here. . . do you remember me?"
The boy, without answering, turned and scampered off.
"Nothing to be afraid of," Norm said to his wife. "He's going to tell their Mayor. A nice old fellow named Ben Fennimore."
Soon several adults appeared, approaching warily.
With relief, Norm set the legs of the wheelbarrow down into the ash, letting go and wiping his face with his handkerchief. "Has the Oakland team arrived yet?" he called.
"Not yet," a tall, elderly man with a white armband and ornate cap answered. "It's you Schein, isn't it?" he said, peering. This was Ben Fennimore. "Back already with your layout." Now the Berkeley flukers had begun crowding around the wheelbarrow, inspecting the Scheins' layout. Their faces showed admiration.
"They have Perky Pat here," Norm explained to his wife. "But --" He lowered his voice. "Their layouts are only basic. Just a house, wardrobe and car. . . they've built almost nothing. No imagination."
One Berkeley fluker, a woman, said wonderingly to Fran, "And you made each of the pieces of furniture yourselves?" Marveling, she turned to the man beside her. "See what they've accomplished, Ed?"
"Yes," the man answered, nodding. "Say," he said to Fran and Norm, "can we see it all set up? You're going to set it up in our pit, aren't you?"
"We are indeed," Norm said.
The Berkeley flukers helped push the wheelbarrow the last mile. And before long they were descending the ramp, to the pit below the surface.
"It's a big pit," Norm said knowingly to Fran. "Must be two thousand people here. This is where the University of California was."
"I see," Fran said, a little timid at entering a strange pit; it was the first time in years -- since the war, in fact -- that she had seen any strangers. And so many at once. It was almost too much for her; Norm felt her shrink back, pressing against him in fright.
When they had reached the first level and were starting to unload the wheelbarrow, Ben Fennimore came up to them and said softly, "I think the Oakland people have been spotted; we just got a report of activity upstairs. So be prepared." He added, "We're rooting for you, of course, because you're Perky Pat, the same as us."
"Have you ever seen Connie Companion doll?" Fran asked him.
"No ma'am," Fennimore answered courteously. "But naturally we've heard about it, being neighbors to Oakland and all. I'll tell you one thing. . . we hear that Connie Companion doll is a bit older than Perky Pat. You know -- more, um, matured." He explained, "I just wanted to prepare you."
Norm and Fran glanced at each other. "Thanks," Norm said slowly. "Yes, we should be as much prepared as possible. How about Paul?"
"Oh, he's not much," Fennimore said. "Connie runs things; I don't even think Paul has a real apartment of his own. But you better wait until the Oakland flukers get here; I don't want to mislead you -- my knowledge is all hearsay, you understand."
Another Berkeley fluker, standing nearby, spoke up. "I saw Connie once, and she's much more grown up than Perky Pat."
"How old do you figure Perky Pat is?" Norm asked him.
"Oh, I'd say seventeen or eighteen," Norm was told.
"And Connie?" He waited tensely.
"Oh, she might be twenty-five, even."
From the ramp behind them they heard noises. More Berkeley flukers appeared, and, after them, two men carrying between them a platform on which, spread out, Norm saw a great, spectacular layout.
This was the Oakland team, and they weren't a couple, a man and wife; they were both men, and they were hard-faced with stern, remote eyes. They jerked their heads briefly at him and Fran, acknowledging their presence. And then, with enormous care, they set down the platform on which their layout rested.
Behind them came a third Oakland fluker carrying a metal box, much like a lunch pail. Norm, watching, knew instinctively that in the box lay Connie Companion doll. The Oakland fluker produced a key and began unlocking the box.
"We're ready to begin playing any time," the taller of the Oakland men said. "As we agreed in our discussion, we'll use a numbered spinner instead of dice. Less chance of cheating that way."
"Agreed," Norm said. Hesitantly he held out his hand. "I'm Norman Schein and this is my wife and play-partner Fran."
The Oakland man, evidently the leader, said, "I'm Walter R. Wynn. This is my partner here, Charley Dowd, and the man with the box, that's Peter Foster. He isn't going to play; he just guards our layout." Wynn glanced about, at the Berkeley flukers, as if saying, I know you're all partial to Perky Pat, in here. But we don't care; we're not scared.
Fran said, "We're ready to play, Mr. Wynn." Her voice was low but controlled.
"What about money?" Fennimore asked.
"I think both teams have plenty of money," Wynn said. He laid out several thousand dollars in greenbacks, and now Norm did the same. "The money of course is not a factor in this, except as a means of conducting the game."
Norm nodded; he understood perfectly. Only the dolls themselves mattered. And now, for the first time, he saw Connie Companion doll.
She was being placed in her bedroom by Mr. Foster who evidently was in charge of her. And the sight of her took his breath away. Yes, she was older. A grown woman, not a girl at all. . . the difference between her and Perky Pat was acute. And so life-like. Carved, not poured; she obviously had been whittled out of wood and then painted -- she was not a thermoplastic. And her hair. It appeared to be genuine hair.
He was deeply impressed.
"What do you think of her?" Walter Wynn asked, with a faint grin.
"Very -- impressive," Norm conceded.
Now the Oaklanders were studying Perky Pat. "Poured thermoplastic," one of them said. "Artificial hair. Nice clothes, though; all stitched by hand, you can see that. Interesting; what we heard was correct. Perky Pat isn't a grownup, she's just a teenager."
Now the male companion to Connie appeared; he was set down in the bedroom beside Connie.
"Wait a minute," Norm said. "You're putting Paul or whatever his name is, in her bedroom with her? Doesn't he have his own apartment?"
Wynn said, "They're married."
"Married!" Norman and Fran stared at him, dumbfounded.
"Why sure," Wynn said. "So naturally they live together. Your dolls, they're not, are they?"
"N-no," Fran said. "Leonard is Perky Pat's boy friend. . ." Her voice trailed off. "Norm," she said, clutching his arm, "I don't believe him; I think he's just saying they're married to get the advantage. Because if they both start out from the same room --"
Norm said aloud, "You fellows, look here. It's not fair, calling them married."
Wynn said, "We're not 'calling' them married; they are married. Their names are Connie and Paul Lathrope, of 24 Arden Place, Piedmont. They've been married for a year, most players will tell you." He sounded calm.
Maybe, Norm thought, it's true. He was truly shaken.
"Look at them together," Fran said, kneeling down to examine the Oaklanders' layout. "In the same bedroom, in the same house. Why, Norm; do you see? There's just the one bed. A big double bed." Wild-eyed, she appealed to him. "How can Perky Pat and Leonard play against them?" Her voice shook. "It's not morally right."
"This is another type of layout entirely," Norm said to Walter Wynn. "This, that you have. Utterly different from what we're used to, as you can see." He pointed to his own layout. "I insist that in this game Connie and Paul not live together and not be considered married."
"But they are," Foster spoke up. "It's a fact. Look -- their clothes are in the same closet." He showed them the closet. "And in the same bureau drawers." He showed them that, too. "And look in the bathroom. Two toothbrushes. His and hers, in the same rack. So you can see we're not making it up."
There was silence.
Then Fran said in a choked voice, "And if they're married -- you mean they've been -- intimate?"
Wynn raised an eyebrow, then nodded. "Sure, since they're married. Is there anything wrong with that?"
"Perky Pat and Leonard have never --" Fran began, and then ceased.
"Naturally not," Wynn agreed. "Because they're only going together. We understand that."
Fran said, "We just can't play. We can't." She caught hold of her husband's arm. "Let's go back to Pinole pit -- please, Norman."
"Wait," Wynn said, at once. "If you don't play, you're conceding; you have to give up Perky Pat."
The three Oaklanders all nodded. And, Norm saw, many of the Berkeley flukers were nodding, too, including Ben Fennimore.
"They're right," Norm said heavily to his wife. "We'd have to give her up. We better play, dear."
"Yes," Fran said, in a dead, flat voice. "We'll play." She bent down and listlessly spun the needle of the spinner. It stopped at six.
Smiling, Walter Wynn knelt down and spun. He obtained a four.
The game had begun.
Crouching behind the strewn, decayed contents of a care parcel that had been dropped long ago, Timothy Schein saw coming across the surface of ash his mother and father, pushing the wheelbarrow ahead of them. They looked tired and worn.
"Hi," Timothy yelled, leaping out at them in joy at seeing them again; he had missed them very much.
"Hi, son," his father murmured, nodding. He let go of the handles of the wheelbarrow, then halted and wiped his face with his handkerchief.
Now Fred Chamberlain raced up, panting. "Hi, Mr. Schein; hi, Mrs. Schein. Hey, did you win? Did you beat the Oakland flukers? I bet you did, didn't you?" He looked from one of them to the other and then back.
In a low voice Fran said, "Yes, Freddy. We won."
Norm said, "Look in the wheelbarrow."
The two boys looked. And, there among Perky Pat's furnishings, lay another doll. Larger, fuller-figured, much older than Pat... they stared at her and she stared up sightlessly at the gray sky overhead. So this is Connie Companion doll, Timothy said to himself. Gee.
"We were lucky," Norm said. Now several people had emerged from the pit and were gathering around them, listening. Jean and Sam Regan, Tod Morrison and his wife Helen, and now their Mayor, Hooker Glebe himself, waddling up excited and nervous, his face flushed, gasping for breath from the labor -- unusual for him -- of ascending the ramp.
Fran said,"We got a cancellation of debts card, just when we were most behind. We owed fifty thousand, and it made us even with the Oakland flukers. And then, after that, we got an advance ten squares card, and that put us right on the jackpot square, at least in our layout. We had a very bitter squabble, because the Oaklanders showed us that on their layout it was a tax lien slapped on real estate holdings square, but we had spun an odd number so that put us back on our own board." She sighed. "I'm glad to be back. It was hard, Hooker; it was a tough game."
Hooker Glebe wheezed, "Let's all get a look at the Connie Companion doll, folks." To Fran and Norm he said, "Can I lift her up and show them?"
"Sure," Norm said, nodding.
Hooker picked up Connie Companion doll. "She sure is realistic," he said, scrutinizing her. "Clothes aren't as nice as ours generally are; they look machine-made."
"They are," Norm agreed. "But she's carved, not poured."
"Yes, so I see." Hooker turned the doll about, inspecting her from all angles. "A nice job. She's -- um, more filled-out than Perky Pat. What's this outfit she has on? Tweed suit of some sort."
"A business suit," Fran said. "We won that with her; they had agreed on that in advance."
"You see, she has a job," Norm explained. "She's a psychology consultant for a business firm doing marketing research. In consumer preferences. A high-paying position. . . she earns twenty thousand a year, I believe Wynn said."
"Golly," Hooker said. "And Pat's just going to college; she's still in school." He looked troubled. "Well, I guess they were bound to be ahead of us in some ways. What matters is that you won." His jovial smile returned. "Perky Pat came out ahead." He held the Connie Companion doll up high, where everyone could see her. "Look what Norm and Fran came back with, folks!"
Norm said, "Be careful with her, Hooker." His voice was firm.
"Eh?" Hooker said, pausing. "Why, Norm?"
"Because," Norm said, "she's going to have a baby."
There was a sudden chill silence. The ash around them stirred faintly; that was the only sound.
"How do you know?" Hooker asked.
"They told us. The Oaklanders told us. And we won that, too -- after a bitter argument that Fennimore had to settle." Reaching into the wheelbarrow he brought out a little leather pouch, from it he carefully took a carved pink new-born baby. "We won this too because Fennimore agreed that from a technical standpoint it's literally part of Connie Companion doll at this point."
Hooker stared a long, long time.
"She's married," Fran explained. "To Paul. They're not just going together. She's three months pregnant, Mr. Wynn said. He didn't tell us until after we won; he didn't want to, then, but they felt they had to. I think they were right; it wouldn't have done not to say."
Norm said, "And in addition there's actually an embryo outfit --"
"Yes," Fran said. "You have to open Connie up, of course, to see --"
"No," Jean Regan said. "Please, no."
Hooker said, "No, Mrs. Schein, don't." He backed away.
Fran said, "It shocked us of course at first, but --"
"You see," Norm put in, "it's logical; you have to follow the logic. Why, eventually Perky Pat --"
"No," Hooker said violently. He bent down, picked up a rock from the ash at his feet. "No," he said, and raised his arm. "You stop, you two. Don't say any more."
Now the Regans, too, had picked up rocks. No one spoke. Fran said, at last, "Norm, we've got to get out of here."
"You're right," Tod Morrison told them. His wife nodded in grim agreement.
"You two go back down to Oakland," Hooker told Norman and Fran Schein. "You don't live here any more. You're different than you were. You -- changed."
"Yes," Sam Regan said slowly, half to himself. "I was right; there was something to fear." To Norm Schein he said, "How difficult a trip is it to Oakland?"
"We just went to Berkeley," Norm said. "To the Berkeley Fluke-pit." He seemed baffled and stunned by what was happening. "My God," he said, "we can't turn around and push this wheelbarrow back all the way to Berkeley again -- we're worn out, we need rest!"
Sam Regan said, "What if somebody else pushed?" He walked up to the Scheins, then, and stood with them. "I'll push the darn thing. You lead the way, Schein." He looked toward his own wife, but Jean did not stir. And she did not put down her handful of rocks.
Timothy Schein plucked at his father's arm. "Can I come this time, Dad? Please let me come."
"Okay," Norm said, half to himself. Now he drew himself together. "So we're not wanted here." He turned to Fran. "Let's go. Sam's going to push the wheelbarrow; I think we can make it back there before nightfall. If not, we can sleep out in the open; Timothy'll help protect us against the do-cats." Fran said, "I guess we have no choice." Her face was pale. "And take this," Hooker said. He held out the tiny carved baby. Fran Schein accepted it and put it tenderly back in its leather pouch. Norm laid Connie Companion back down in the wheelbarrow, where she had been. They were ready to start back.
"It'll happen up here eventually," Norm said, to the group of people, to the Pinole flukers. "Oakland is just more advanced; that's all."
"Go on," Hooker Glebe said. "Get started."
Nodding, Norm started to pick up the handles of the wheelbarrow, but Sam Regan moved him aside and took them himself. "Let's go," he said.
The three adults, with Timothy Schein going ahead of them with his knife ready -- in case a do-cat attacked -- started into motion, in the direction of Oakland and the south. No one spoke. There was nothing to say.
"It's a shame this had to happen," Norm said at last, when they had gone almost a mile and there was no further sign of the Pinole flukers behind them.
"Maybe not," Sam Regan said. "Maybe it's for the good." He did not seem downcast. And after all, he had lost his wife; he had given up more than anyone else, and yet -- he had survived.
"Glad you feel that way," Norm said somberly. They continued on, each with his own thoughts.
After a while, Timothy said to his father, "All these big fluke-pits to the south. . . there's lots more things to do there, isn't there? I mean, you don't just sit around playing that game." He certainly hoped not.
His father said, "That's true, I guess."
Overhead, a care ship whistled at great velocity and then was gone again almost at once; Timothy watched it go but he was not really interested in it, because there was so much more to look forward to, on the ground and below the ground, ahead of them to the south.
His father murmured, "Those Oaklanders; their game, their particular doll, it taught them something. Connie had to grow and it forced them all to grow along with her. Our flukers never learned about that, not from Perky Pat. I wonder if they ever will. She'd have to grow up the way Connie did. Connie must have been like Perky Pat, once. A long time ago."
Not interested in what his father was saying -- who really cared about dolls and games with dolls? -- Timothy scampered ahead, peering to see what lay before them, the opportunities and possibilities, for him and for his mother and dad, for Mr. Regan also.
"I can't wait," he yelled back at his father, and Norm Schein managed a faint, fatigued smile in answer.