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Fantastic

FALL 1952

BEATRICE

BY DEAN EVANS

One day, science-fiction writers tell us, we are to have a brave new world filled with gadgets to do our work, machines to solve our problems. But can technocracy free a man caught in the web of human deceit? As a case in point, Dean Evans tells you the tough-lender story of Mr. Fransic, a subdued little man with a cheating wife. In a way, machines solved Mr. Fransic's problem—solved it with a finality that brooked no argument.

HE WAS a little man, a very little man, and very frail. He was so frail, indeed, that if you held him up bodily to a strong light you might expect to see right through him, bones and all. His name was Willard A. Fransic. He was mild as cheesefood, and his voice — when he spoke, that is — was so soft and so incredibly delicate that the sudden unbelievable sound of it was rather shocking. But gently shocking. Like the sight of a hummingbird flying backwards.

That particular night he reached his home a bit earlier than usual. As was his secret ritual — if nobody was looking — he paused when he got to the beam of the photoelectric cell artfully concealed in little enclosures under the box hedge before the apartment entrance. He pushed out his chin and threw back his thin shoulders. Then he stepped forward into the beam and raised his eyes pleasurably as the great, cathedral-like ornamental bronze doors of the apartment, activated by the hidden mechanism, swung open very slowly. Very, very ponderously — and just for him alone. He smiled happily. He went through and into the lobby.

"'Evening, Mr. Fransic, sir!" rasped out the ID Box over on the right wall. Mr. Fransic turned his head, nodded politely. The ID Box was so designed that, if its radar tentacles touched physical proportions not listed in its remarkable mechanical memory, it would immediately send a little warning over to the elevator doors. And the elevator doors, cooperating, would stubbornly refuse to open to anybody or anything, short of a blowtorch or a molybdenum chisel propelled by a tenpound sledge in the hands of somebody with a lot of time and a lot of energy to burn. Moreover, if any unauthorized person attempted to meddle with the ID Box itself... Mr. Fransic shuddered, thinking about that. On the whole, though, Mr. Fransic approved very highly of the ID Box. Because of the ID Box, no one not wanted could get upstairs into the residences of the tenants. No glib-talking door-to-door men, for instance. No thieves. A wonderful gadget, the ID Box, thought Mr. Fransic.

Mr. Fransic crossed the silent lobby. The elevator doors opened beautifully. Mr. Fransic got in. The doors slid closed.

"Fifth floor, if you please, Arthur," said Mr. Fransic. Of course, he wasn't talking to anybody, for the elevator was entirely supermatic and required no operator. Mr. Fransic was only giving orders to the control dingus on the wall. That was another thing Mr. Fransic liked. He even named it, he liked it so well, and when he uttered the name he always said it with a straight face, not smiling.

The elevator went up like smoke through a cool chimney. The doors went back. Mr. Fransic stepped out and walked down the cheerfully-lighted corridor. He stopped before a mahogany door with "3C" lettered on it in shiny solid gold.

"This is the lord and master," announced Mr. Fransic, playfully, into a small chromium-grilled unit on the door casing. The unit knew he wasn't a fake. The door went back like a mouse scurrying into its hole.

Mr. Fransic stepped into the living room. He took off his hat and aimed it at the tall porcelain figurine of a nude which stood upon the glass-topped coffee table. Then he sighed and shook his head and didn't throw it at all, but hung it up in the closet instead. After that, he rubbed his thin veined hands together, although the evening was pleasantlv warm, and called out cheerfully: "Hallooo!"

Nobody answered that. Mr. Fransic stepped across the thick nylo-wool carpet, went around a large easy chair that resembled an upholstered tablespoon; went on by a divan which wasn't quite as long as a pew in the rear of a church, and called out again: "Willard A. Fransic is home, dearest!"

Mr. Fransic blushed faintly, suddenly feeling a little ludicrous. He reached the door of his den, opened it, popped his head in and looked around. There wasn't anybody in the den. He closed the door again, went down a short hall to the kitchen.

"The lord and master, Beatrice," he said, recalling his little witticism into the chrome grillwork on the door. Nobody answered that either.

"Beatrice?" He frowned. Except for automatic appliances which glinted with a merciless white glare, the kitchen was unoccupied.

He turned around, went back down the hall to his wife's bedroom. He opened the door, popped his head through. Empty. He didn't have to pop his head into the adjoining bathroom, for that door yawned widely. He tried the door to his own bedroom. She wasn't there either.

"Probably downtown shopping," he said to himself, half-aloud. "Hasn't gotten home yet."


That thought made Mr. Fransic sad. He closed his bedroom door and went back to the den. He didn't like an empty apartment; empty apar...

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