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Manners of the age, p.1
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       Manners of the Age, p.1

           H. B. Fyfe
 
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Manners of the Age


  Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net

  Transcriber's Note:

  This etext was produced from Galaxy Science Fiction March 1952. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

  Manners of the Age

  By H. B. FYFE

  Illustrated by MARCHETTI

  With everyone gone elsewhere, Earth was perfect for gracious living--only there was nothing gracious about it!

  * * * * *

  The red tennis robot scooted desperately across the court, its fourwide-set wheels squealing. For a moment, Robert's hard-hit passingshot seemed to have scored. Then, at the last instant, the robotwhipped around its single racket-equipped arm. Robert sprawledheadlong in a futile lunge at the return.

  "Game and set to Red Three," announced the referee box from its highstation above the net.

  "Ah, shut up!" growled Robert, and flung down his racket for one ofthe white serving robots to retrieve.

  "Yes, Robert," agreed the voice. "Will Robert continue to play?"Interpreting the man's savage mumble as a negative, it told hisopponent, "Return to your stall, Red Three!"

  Robert strode off wordlessly toward the house. Reaching thehundred-foot-square swimming pool, he hesitated uncertainly.

  "Weather's so damned hot," he muttered. "Why didn't the old-timescientists find out how to do something about that while there werestill enough people on Earth to manage it?"

  He stripped off his damp clothing and dropped it on the "beach" ofwhite sand. Behind him sounded the steps of a humanoid serving robot,hastening to pick it up. Robert plunged deep into the cooling waterand let himself float lazily to the surface.

  _Maybe they did, he thought. I could send a robot over to the old citylibrary for information. Still, actually doing anything would probablytake the resources of a good many persons--and it isn't so easy tofind people now that Earth is practically deserted._

  He rolled sideward for a breath and began to swim slowly for theopposite side of the pool, reflecting upon the curious culture of theplanet. Although he had accepted this all his life, it really wasremarkable how the original home of the human race had been forsakenfor fresher worlds among the stars. Or was it more remarkable that afew individuals had asserted their independence by remaining?

  Robert was aware that the decision involved few difficulties,considering the wealth of robots and other automatic machines. Heregretted knowing so few humans, though they were really notnecessary. If not for his hobby of televising, he would probably notknow any at all.

  "Wonder how far past the old city I'd have to go to meet someone inperson," he murmured as he pulled himself from the pool. "Maybe Iought to try accepting that televised invitation of the other night."

  * * * * *

  Several dark usuform robots were smoothing the sand on this beachunder the direction of a blue humanoid supervisor. Watching them idly,Robert estimated that it must be ten years since he had seen anotherhuman face to face. His parents were dim memories. He got along verywell, however, with robots to serve him or to obtain occasionalinformation from the automatic scanners of the city library that hadlong ago been equipped to serve such a purpose.

  "Much better than things were in the old days," he told himself as hecrossed the lawn to his sprawling white mansion. "Must have been awfulbefore the population declined. Imagine having people all around you,having to listen to them, see them, and argue to make them do what youwanted!"

  The heel of his bare right foot came down heavily on a pebble, and heswore without awareness of the precise meaning of the ancient phrases.He limped into the baths and beckoned a waiting robot as he stretchedout on a rubbing table.

  "Call Blue One!" he ordered.

  The red robot pushed a button on the wall before beginning themassage. In a few moments, the major-domo arrived.

  "Did Robert enjoy the tennis?" it inquired politely.

  "I did _not_!" snapped the man. "Red Three won--and by too big ascore. Have it geared down a few feet per second."

  "Yes, Robert."

  "And have the lawn screened again for pebbles!"

  As Blue One retired he relaxed, and turned his mind to ideas forfilling the evening. He hoped Henry would televise: Robert had newsfor him.

  After a short nap and dinner, he took the elevator to his three-storytower and turned on the television robot. Seating himself in acomfortable armchair, he directed the machine from one channel toanother. For some time, there was no answer to his perfunctory callsignals, but one of his few acquaintances finally came on.

  "Jack here," said a quiet voice that Robert had long suspected ofbeing disguised by a filter microphone.

  "I haven't heard you for some weeks," he remarked, eying the swirlingcolors on the screen.

  He disliked Jack for never showing his face, but curiosity as to whatlay behind the mechanical image projected by the other's transmitterpreserved the acquaintance.

  "I was ... busy," said the bodiless voice, with a discreet hint of achuckle that Robert found chilling.

  He wondered what Jack had been up to. He remembered once being favoredwith a televised view of Jack's favorite sport--a battle betweencompanies of robots designed for the purpose, horribly reminiscent ofhuman conflicts Robert had seen on historical films.

  * * * * *

  He soon made an excuse to break off and set the robot to scanningHenry's channel. He had something to tell the older man, who livedonly about a hundred miles away and was as close to being his friendas was possible in this age of scattered, self-sufficient dwellings.

  "I don't mind talking to _him_," Robert reflected. "At least hedoesn't overdo this business of individual privacy."

  He thought briefly of the disdainful face--seemingly on a distantstation--which had merely examined him for several minutes one nightwithout ever condescending to speak. Recalling his rage at thistreatment, Robert wondered how the ancients had managed to get alongtogether when there were so many of them. They must have had somestrict code of behavior, he supposed, or they never would have bredso enormous a population.

  "I must find out about that someday," he decided. "How did you act,for instance, if you wanted to play tennis but someone else justrefused and went to eat dinner? Maybe that was why the ancients had somany murders."

  He noticed that the robot was getting an answer from Henry's station,and was pleased. He could talk as long as he liked, knowing Henrywould not resent his cutting off any time he became bored with theconversation.

  * * * * *

  The robot focused the image smoothly. Henry gave the impression ofbeing a small man. He was gray and wrinkled compared with Robert, buthis black eyes were alertly sharp. He smiled his greeting andimmediately launched into a story of one of his youthful trips throughthe mountains, from the point at which it had been interrupted thelast time they had talked.

  Robert listened impatiently.

  "Maybe I have some interesting news," he remarked as the otherfinished. "I picked up a new station the other night."

  "That reminds me of a time when I was a boy and--"

  Robert fidgeted while Henry described watching his father build aspare television set as a hobby, with only a minimum of robot help. Hepounced upon the first pause.

  "A new station!" he repeated. "Came in very well, too. I can't imaginewhy I never picked it up before."

  "Distant, perhaps?" asked Henry resignedly.

  "No, not very far from me, as a matt
er of fact."

  "You can't always tell, especially with the ocean so close. Now thatthere are so few people, you'd think there'd be land enough for all ofthem; but a good many spend all their lives aboard ship-robots."

  "Not this one," said Robert. "She even showed me an outside view ofher home."

  Henry's eyebrows rose. "She? A woman?"

  "Her name is Marcia-Joan."

  "Well, well," said Henry. "Imagine that. Women, as I recall, usuallydo have funny names."

  He gazed thoughtfully at his well-kept hands.

  "Did I ever tell you about the last woman I knew?" he asked. "Abouttwenty years ago. We had a son, you know, but he grew up and wantedhis own home and robots."

  "Natural enough," Robert commented, somewhat
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