The Tunnel Under The World, p.1Frederik Pohl
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This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction January 1955. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
By FREDERIK POHL
Pinching yourself is no way to see if you are dreaming. Surgical instruments? Well, yes--but a mechanic's kit is best of all!
Illustrated by EMSH
* * * * *
On the morning of June 15th, Guy Burckhardt woke up screaming out of adream.
It was more real than any dream he had ever had in his life. He couldstill hear and feel the sharp, ripping-metal explosion, the violentheave that had tossed him furiously out of bed, the searing wave ofheat.
He sat up convulsively and stared, not believing what he saw, at thequiet room and the bright sunlight coming in the window.
He croaked, "Mary?"
His wife was not in the bed next to him. The covers were tumbled andawry, as though she had just left it, and the memory of the dream wasso strong that instinctively he found himself searching the floor tosee if the dream explosion had thrown her down.
But she wasn't there. Of course she wasn't, he told himself, lookingat the familiar vanity and slipper chair, the uncracked window, theunbuckled wall. It had only been a dream.
"Guy?" His wife was calling him querulously from the foot of thestairs. "Guy, dear, are you all right?"
He called weakly, "Sure."
There was a pause. Then Mary said doubtfully, "Breakfast is ready. Areyou sure you're all right? I thought I heard you yelling--"
Burckhardt said more confidently, "I had a bad dream, honey. Be rightdown."
* * * * *
In the shower, punching the lukewarm-and-cologne he favored, he toldhimself that it had been a beaut of a dream. Still, bad dreams weren'tunusual, especially bad dreams about explosions. In the past thirtyyears of H-bomb jitters, who had not dreamed of explosions?
Even Mary had dreamed of them, it turned out, for he started to tellher about the dream, but she cut him off. "You _did_?" Her voice wasastonished. "Why, dear, I dreamed the same thing! Well, almost thesame thing. I didn't actually _hear_ anything. I dreamed thatsomething woke me up, and then there was a sort of quick bang, andthen something hit me on the head. And that was all. Was yours likethat?"
Burckhardt coughed. "Well, no," he said. Mary was not one of thesestrong-as-a-man, brave-as-a-tiger women. It was not necessary, hethought, to tell her all the little details of the dream that made itseem so real. No need to mention the splintered ribs, and the saltbubble in his throat, and the agonized knowledge that this was death.He said, "Maybe there really was some kind of explosion downtown.Maybe we heard it and it started us dreaming."
Mary reached over and patted his hand absently. "Maybe," she agreed."It's almost half-past eight, dear. Shouldn't you hurry? You don'twant to be late to the office."
He gulped his food, kissed her and rushed out--not so much to be ontime as to see if his guess had been right.
But downtown Tylerton looked as it always had. Coming in on the bus,Burckhardt watched critically out the window, seeking evidence of anexplosion. There wasn't any. If anything, Tylerton looked better thanit ever had before: It was a beautiful crisp day, the sky wascloudless, the buildings were clean and inviting. They had, heobserved, steam-blasted the Power & Light Building, the town's onlyskyscraper--that was the penalty of having Contro Chemical's mainplant on the outskirts of town; the fumes from the cascade stills lefttheir mark on stone buildings.
None of the usual crowd were on the bus, so there wasn't anyoneBurckhardt could ask about the explosion. And by the time he got outat the corner of Fifth and Lehigh and the bus rolled away with a muteddiesel moan, he had pretty well convinced himself that it was allimagination.
He stopped at the cigar stand in the lobby of his office building, butRalph wasn't behind the counter. The man who sold him his pack ofcigarettes was a stranger.
"Where's Mr. Stebbins?" Burckhardt asked.
The man said politely, "Sick, sir. He'll be in tomorrow. A pack ofMarlins today?"
"Chesterfields," Burckhardt corrected.
"Certainly, sir," the man said. But what he took from the rack andslid across the counter was an unfamiliar green-and-yellow pack.
"Do try these, sir," he suggested. "They contain an anti-cough factor.Ever notice how ordinary cigarettes make you choke every once in awhile?"
* * * * *
Burckhardt said suspiciously, "I never heard of this brand."
"Of course not. They're something new." Burckhardt hesitated, and theman said persuasively, "Look, try them out at my risk. If you don'tlike them, bring back the empty pack and I'll refund your money. Fairenough?"
Burckhardt shrugged. "How can I lose? But give me a pack ofChesterfields, too, will you?"
He opened the pack and lit one while he waited for the elevator. Theyweren't bad, he decided, though he was suspicious of cigarettes thathad the tobacco chemically treated in any way. But he didn't thinkmuch of Ralph's stand-in; it would raise hell with the trade at thecigar stand if the man tried to give every customer the samehigh-pressure sales talk.
The elevator door opened with a low-pitched sound of music. Burckhardtand two or three others got in and he nodded to them as the doorclosed. The thread of music switched off and the speaker in theceiling of the cab began its usual commercials.
No, not the _usual_ commercials, Burckhardt realized. He had beenexposed to the captive-audience commercials so long that they hardlyregistered on the outer ear any more, but what was coming from therecorded program in the basement of the building caught hisattention. It wasn't merely that the brands were mostly unfamiliar; itwas a difference in pattern.
There were jingles with an insistent, bouncy rhythm, about soft drinkshe had never tasted. There was a rapid patter dialogue between whatsounded like two ten-year-old boys about a candy bar, followed by anauthoritative bass rumble: "Go right out and get a DELICIOUSChoco-Bite and eat your TANGY Choco-Bite _all up_. That's_Choco-Bite_!" There was a sobbing female whine: "I _wish_ I had aFeckle Freezer! I'd do _anything_ for a Feckle Freezer!" Burckhardtreached his floor and left the elevator in the middle of the last one.It left him a little uneasy. The commercials were not for familiarbrands; there was no feeling of use and custom to them.
But the office was happily normal--except that Mr. Barth wasn't in.Miss Mitkin, yawning at the reception desk, didn't know exactly why."His home phoned, that's all. He'll be in tomorrow."
"Maybe he went to the plant. It's right near his house."
She looked indifferent. "Yeah."
A thought struck Burckhardt. "But today is June 15th! It's quarterlytax return day--he has to sign the return!"
Miss Mitkin shrugged to indicate that that was Burckhardt's problem,not hers. She returned to her nails.
Thoroughly exasperated, Burckhardt went to his desk. It wasn't that hecouldn't sign the tax returns as well as Barth, he thoughtresentfully. It simply wasn't his job, that was all; it was aresponsibility that Barth, as office manager for Contro Chemicals'downtown office, should have taken.
* * * * *
He thought briefly of calling Barth at his home or trying to reach himat the factory, but he gave up the idea quic
According to Barth, each machine was controlled by a sort of computerwhich reproduced, in its electronic snarl, the actual memory and mindof a human being. It was an unpleasant thought. Barth, laughing, hadassured him that there was no Frankenstein business of robbinggraveyards and implanting brains in machines. It was only a matter, hesaid, of transferring a man's habit patterns from brain
The Tunnel Under The World by Frederik Pohl / Science Fiction have rating 3.8 out of 5 / Based on15 votes